The big hole in middle India

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Several reports have pointed to rampant mining in Madhya Pradesh, but the state government is yet to wake up. Abhishek Bhalla tracks the unchecked plunder

Beyond limits Illegal mining in Jabalpur district
Beyond limits: Illegal mining in Jabalpur district

ON 8 MARCH, 30-year-old IPS Officer Narendra Kumar Singh lost his life taking on the mining mafia in Madhya Pradesh. Two days later, there was another attack on a state government-appointed team of district officials probing illegal mining in Ajaygarh near the Panna Forest Reserve. Unidentified men had opened fire at the team.

That illegal mining is rampant in Madhya Pradesh is a known secret, and it is further established from various reports sent to the mining department by district officials. In the course of its investigation, TEHELKA uncovered some startling facts that raise serious questions about the government’s intent in stopping illegal mining in the state.

When approached by TEHELKA, then mining secretary SK Mishra denied allegations of illegal mining. “There might be a few violations and we try to check them, but there is no mining mafia as is being pointed out,” he said. Mishra has since been transferred.

ACCORDING TO OFFICIAL figures, in the past six years, a whopping 23,390 cases related to illegal mining were registered in courts across the state. In a state where mining is a major source of revenue — 2,700 crore in 2011 — the government, which is trying to push it up further, is wary of taking stringent action. Mining of iron ore, manganese, bauxite, coal, and stone quarrying and sand mining along the Narmada river carry on unabated. With 5,469 mines, nearly one-third of the total geographical area in the state is under mining.

According to the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report, between 2005 and 2010, the state government lost revenue worth Rs 1,496 crore due to illegal mining. However, activists and the Opposition claim that at least Rs 5,000 crore as royalty is unaccounted for. The report placed MP in third position, after Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh, in the list of states where illegal mining is being carried out. “The government only gets about 50 percent of the royalty. The rest is unaccounted for and evaded by the companies,” says Bhopal-based anti-mining activist Ajay Dubey.

Recent reports by district officials highlight irregularities, but the government maintains a stoic silence. On 9 January 2012, Girish Sharma, Joint Collector, Sehore, who was also a part of the team probing mining in the Panna Reserve, gave a report against several companies in the district involved in illegal stone and sand mining. Instead of initiating action, the government chose to transfer him.

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The blind eye of the Government

• According to the CAG report, between 2005 and 2010, the state government lost revenue worth Rs 1,496 crore due to illegal mining

• Despite evidences to the contrary, the state government has held that no illegal mining happens in MP

• Report after report has highlighted the issue of illegal mining. Yet, the government has avoided taking any action against the offenders

• Illegal mining is rampant even in Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s constituency Budni

• Despite proposals by district officials to cancel mining licences of violators, the mining department chooses to play the waiting game

 The mining minister defends the inaction saying cancellation of licences would be seen as a knee-jerk reaction and violation of procedure

• Activists say loss to the exchequer is Rs 5,000 crore. The state, however, claims to have generated revenue through the royalty accrued

• No probe has been constituted to assess loss to state, in spite of one official claiming the scam to be as big as Bellary in Karnataka

• Activists and state pollution control board officials warn against the long-term impact of the degradation of the Narmada basin

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Incidentally, the order came the same day Sharma submitted his report. The officer then filed a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court asking for his transfer to be stalled on the grounds that it was politically motivated. Sharma contested that this was his second transfer in less than two years; and 11th in as many years of service. The high court stayed his transfer from the district, but by then someone else had replaced him in the team.

SHARMA’S REPORT stated serious violations and irregularities in Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s constituency Budni and other areas in Sehore. According to the report, mining was rampant in 250 metres of forest area in the chief minister’s constituency, a clear violation of Supreme Court guidelines, which clearly states that mining is prohibited in forest land. The report also points out that there is loss of revenue to the state due to illegal mining. “A serious issue that has come to light is that there was excessive excavation, which has not been assessed properly, leading to loss of royalty to the state. Immediate action should be taken,” goes the recommendation in the report.

The report exposes the extreme use of explosives, and that, too, without obtaining no-objection certificates (NOCs) from the environment ministry. It also questions the leasing procedure in some cases. Despite proposed punitive measures against violators as well as recommendations to cancel the leases, no action has been taken by the government.

Minister for Mining and Power Rajendra Shukla denies any inaction on the government’s part. “I cannot comment on the transfer because transfers of district administration officials do not come under my purview,” he says. “If he has given a report pointing out illegalities, we will definitely act on it.”

An earlier report by Additional Chief Conservator of Forests Jagdish Prasad, a copy of which is in possession of TEHELKA, highlighted illegal stone mining in the Satpura forest. “If this is investigated like the illegal mining in Bellary, revenue worth crores lost by the state due to royalty evasion will come to light,” the report states.

According to it, such illegal mining is not possible without the connivance of forest officials. Despite parallels being drawn with Bellary, there is no top-level investigation to assess the loss to the state. Such is the dread of the mining mafia that Prasad had to remain undercover during the investigations.

An officer, who has been part of the team probing illegal mining, spoke to TEHELKA on condition of anonymity. “It is common for mining companies to dig excessively bypassing laws and environmental clearances,” he explains. “This extra amount of excavated material is not disclosed. This is how they evade taxes and royalty resulting in losses worth crores.”

The officer also points out how tribal land is being used for mining, something TEHELKA has been able to independently confirm. “Patta land is given to tribals for farming. In a way, it is owned by the government but possession is with the tribals. This is part of the Forest Rights Act to empower them. But shockingly, there have been instances where such land was also leased out,” he adds.

Daulat Singh, a tribal from Bijiyan village, explains that middlemen paid some money to the tribals and then sold the land to companies at three times the price. “No land is registered,” he says. “I know a lot of people have given away their land. But I won’t give away my land at any cost.”

Owners all Nirmala Minerals; Pacific Mines
Owners all: Nirmala Minerals; Pacific Mines

In adjoining Tikariya village, Sohanlal Upadhyaya, who runs a provision store, says that mining companies are exploiting the tribals. “They give the tribals about Rs 1 lakh for an acre of land,” he says. “This is common practice here.”

There are recent instances where the state government chose to look the other way despite credible evidence to the contrary. In Sihora, a major hub of iron-ore mining in Jabalpur district, an interesting political battle is being fought between two mining companies with alleged political links. But for this rivalry, perhaps the truth about their illegal activities would have never come out.

Congress MLA Sanjay Pathak’s family runs Anand Mining and Nirmala Minerals, two companies that run iron-ore mines. Pathak’s family and associates have been operating mines in the region since 1956, when they were first allotted mines, and have enjoyed near monopoly on all the mining done in Sihora. But the last few years has seen the emergence of Pacific Exports, owned by Pradeep Mittal, allegedly with close ties to some BJP leaders.

Documents with TEHELKA show how Pacific Exports violated all procedures and indulged in illegal mining for almost a year just because the state government refused to act against it.

Patta land given to tribals for farming has also been leased out for mining, says a district official

On 24 November 2010, the company got permission from the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) only for establishing the mine. At this point, they were not permitted any digging. Nevertheless, the company dispatched 72,000 tonnes of iron-ore and excavated another 3,000 tonnes. In a bizarre turn of events, the MPPCB, which had issued two notices to the company in two months, gave the clearance to start mining in January 2011.

Documents show that even when the permission was given, the production capacity was fixed at 80,000 tonnes per annum, but Pacific Exports had excavated 11 lakh tonnes in just three months. Finally, after 11 months, the MPPCB ordered the mining to be stopped.

Owners all Daulat Singh tells how companies grab tribal land; Sohanlal Upadhyaya on how land is taken at throwaway prices
Greedy grab: Daulat Singh tells how companies grab tribal land; Sohanlal Upadhyaya on how land is taken at throwaway prices

Earlier, on 15 April 2011, District Collector, Jabalpur, Gulshan Bamra suspended mining at the site on the grounds that the company had violated environmental rules by exceeding the permissible limit for mining. But he had to recall his order on 2 May 2011 on the directions of the mining department. Bamra’s proposal to cancel leases has been put in cold storage albeit the company is still under suspension due to non-clearance from the MPPCB.

Pradeep Mittal, owner of Pacific Exports, is confident that the mine will be allowed to function soon. Mittal argues that ‘digging beyond the permissible limit’ is a weak allegation. “When a new mine is dug we have to first remove the overburden,” he says. “The mineral is deeper. So this overburden has been accounted for as production. But, this is not production.”

Meanwhile, Mining Minister Rajendra Shukla has said that cancelling the lease would be a knee-jerk reaction as clearances were expected to be given. “In this particular case (Pacific Exports), the Indian Bureau of Mines has increased their production capacity. They are waiting for environmental clearances. If we cancel the lease and they get the clearances, they will accuse us of not following procedures,” he says. The minister said that there were no complaints of land-grabbing from the tribals against the company.

KATNI CONGRESS MLA Sanjay Pathak’s story runs a similar line. Pathak’s family owns mines in Jabalpur, four of which were closed down due to violations. Although the lease expired in March 2007, work continued in these mines until they were shut down in late 2011 by an order of the MPPCB. In its order, the board stated that these mines had started operating even when their renewal applications were pending approval. Moreover, it added that the quantum of mining exceeded the authorised capacity. Clearances from the board as well as the environment ministry had not been taken before mining commenced.

Hitting out at the allegations, Pathak claims he’s being targeted for having raised his voice against illegal mining.

Illegal mining in MP is as big as Bellary, says Additional Chief Conservator of Forests Jagdish Prasad

Significantly, in both cases, it is the pollution control board and not the mining department that has cracked the whip on illegal mining. The latter defended its actions saying that the Mining Act has no provision for suspending mining. “The government can cancel the lease, but only after scrutinising the reports. Mine owners have to be given a chance to explain themselves,” says now-transferred Mining Secretary Mishra.

In the Assembly, the Opposition had even moved a no-confidence motion on the issue of mining. Mining minister Shukla’s defence rests on the revenue accrued from royalty: “In the past five years, there has been an increase in the state earnings through royalty. What was Rs 600 crore during the Congress rule, is now Rs 2,700 crore.”

Activists are also alarmed at the government’s attitude towards environmental hazards of illegal mining. “Not only is illegal mining robbing the state of wealth, but there are serious environmental concerns that are not being addressed,” says Dubey, anti-illegal mining activist. “The extensive sand mining along the Narmada will kill the river,” he says.

Not only will the Narmada go dry, if the rampant plunder of forest land is not checked, it will hollow out Madhya Pradesh beyond repair.

Abhishek Bhalla is a Senior Special Correspondent with Tehelka.
[email protected]

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