Governments have been coming and going, but the loot has been continuing forever. Tehelka investigations throw a light on large scale illegal mining and their exports going on for over a decade of official neglect and collusion by various departments of the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government — from the Department of Atomic Energy to the Union Ministry of Mines as well as various departments of the State.
Mining actually is a scam — bigger than most scams in view of bureaucracy-politician nexus, but it has failed to catch public attention because it is difficult to link big names with illegal mining and export of precious minerals. Environmentally irresponsible mining is a longstanding problem. Unscrupulous mining companies, criminal organizations, and corrupt officials have damaged the local ecosystem in pursuit of profits. The Centre has been of the view that states need to be given powers to grant environmental clearance. Do the states have adequate paraphernalia?
We all know that mining plays havoc with ecosystem and biodiversity but prosecution rate has been dismal. For instance, in 2015-17 as many as 1,07,609 illegal mining cases were filed across all states in the country but only 6,033 FIRs were lodged. The Supreme Court in August 2017 directed the Centre to revise the National Mineral Policy because the “existing policy seems to be only on paper and is not
being enforced perhaps due to the involvement of very powerful vested interests or failure of nerve”.
The investigations take into account data supplied by each of the government agencies involved in granting permission to mine beach sand and atomic minerals illegally and with impunity.
Data analysed from various sources and a comprehensive complaint filed by a spirited individual with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and assessed by Tehelka reveal that there is no doubt that mining and exports of beach minerals have continued with impunity, flouting all laws and procedures that govern the sector.
The Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) approve the Mining Plans. The IBM comes under the Union Ministry of Mines, and the AMD under the Department of Atomic Energy, directly under the purview of the Prime Minister. The State government’s transport permits too have been examined and collated — without these documents, mining and exports cannot take place. Data available with the Customs Department has been cross-verified to come to a conclusion on the quantum of illegal mining.
Beach sands of the Srikakulum in Andhra Pradesh comprise a mixture of rare atomic minerals such as ilmenite, rutile, leucoxene, zircon and monazite. Of these, monazite, which is also prescribed mineral and can be processed to yield thorium, a nuclear fuel. Monazite is neither allowed to be exported nor sold by private companies but our national wealth is allegedly being sold and exported by certain unscrupulous persons and companies.
Renuka Choudhary, Member of Parliament from Rajya Sabha, was part of the aforesaid Public Accounts Committee also raised this issue in the parliament on 14.03.2016. In fact, Raju, MP from BJP, was also part of the PAC and found the Trimex Group of not only indulging in illegal mining but illegal export of Monazite.
Few names prominently appear in various investigations by Enforcement Directorate, the Central Bureau of Investigation, Ministry of Mines and Ministry of Environment besides Vigilance and Enforcement Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh. Names of Rajendra Prasad Koneru, an Andhra politician and his two sons — Madhu Koneru and Pradeep Koneru — and Trimex Sands (P) Limited, appear as alleged accused in case of illegal mining and export of atomic minerals.
Tehelka sent a questionnaire to Trimex Group at their Chennai and Dubai addresses on April 2, 2018 and a reminder on April 13, 2018. They finally responded via GreyMatters Communications & Consulting Pvt Ltd on April 22, 2018. They denied all the charges. “We have never exported or sold any Monazite to any person much less to any private company or exporting it to China. Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) a statutory regulatory authority under Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) have formulated guidelines/rules for handling of all radioactive material and exercise control over it. The company have obtained license under Atomic Energy (Radiation Protection) Rules, 2004 from AERB. The company is following the directives and guidelines as prescribed by regulatory bodies. AERB is periodically carrying out inspections and never reported any violations of the conditions,” Trimex said in response to the Tehelka questionnaire.
Trimex — which has offices in Dubai, Indonesia and Chennai — has warned Tehelka to refrain from publishing any story contrary to the replies provided by it. “Do not publish any defamatory statements against Trimex either directly or indirectly. If you publish any story contrary to our replies, the same would amount to defamation and also contrary to the orders passed by the Hon’ble Courts. In such event, we will be constrained to initiate appropriate legal action against you including, but not limited to, filing necessary suits, petitions, criminal complaints for defamation etc,” the company said in response to the queries.
“It is also pertinent to note that DAE has also clarified that the quantities and the very limited concentration of Monazite that is available in the beach minerals in this area do not make its mining economically viable. Also, DAE has clarified that there is no market for Monazite currently as it is not the material that can be used with the nuclear technology existing in the world as of today”, Trimex added.
The illegal acts, according to the investigation reports, came to light for the first time way back in the year 2004 when Assistant Director, Mines and Geology, Srikakulum executed the mining lease with Trimex without clearance from Revenue and Forest Departments which was mandatory as per GO Ms No. 31 dated 06.02.2004.
It was also found that the Trimex used loaders of 1.3 and 2.0 cubic meter capacity and excavators of 0.9 and 1.5 cubic meter for loading purpose day and night using floodlights which are subject violation of CRZ clearance vide J-19011/11/2003-1A-III of Ministry of Environments and Forests. However, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India have taken no action till date.
The group has rejected the charges, saying there wasn’t any violation of CRZ clearance. “In fact, this allegation was also subject matter of the defamation suits … and the Hon’ble Courts restrained the media houses from airing such defamatory statements,” the company said.
A detailed report of another enquiry conducted by the officials of Indian Bureau of Mines, Forest, Revenue and Director and Mines and Geology, Hyderabad on 06.03.2013, Director, Mines and Geology submitted to Principal Secretary to Government (Industries & Commerce), highlighted that “Trimex Industries had carried out illegal mining operations in part of the area of 387.72 acres in their mining lease”. The Director Mines and Geology, Government of Andhra Pradesh, suggested action on his report-dated 20.09.2013. However, till date, no orders have been passed on the said report.
The illegal export of radioactive and atomic minerals including concentrated monazite tailings, which contains thorium, a mineral which can be used in the nuclear industry, is a matter of concern for national and international security, according to the investigations carried out by the officers of the Vigilance and Enforcement Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh along with officials of Mines and Geology into the affairs of East West Mineral Sands Private Limited (Trimex Industries Limited) in the months of June, September and November, 2015. East West Mineral Sand Private Limited (subsequently, the lease was transferred from Trimex Industries Limited to East West Mineral Sand Private Limited) and is currently operating in the name of Trimex Sands (P) Limited for required way bills etc.
The investigations found that “Trimex Industries had conducted mining over 304.40 acres of disputed land and illegally excavated minerals worth 1,295.63 crores.”
The report said that “as much as 9750 MT of Monazite was mined and stored by Trimex Industries in pits under their processing plant”. However, it appears that Department of Atomic Energy has not made any effort to recover such huge quantities of nuclear material from the possession of a private party. In all, the Trimex Industries has been accused of illegally mining and transporting 17,58,112 MT of Beach Sand Atomic Minerals worth 1295.63 crores.
The Trimex Group, on its part, said, “It is wrong and false that the company has illegally mined and transported 1295.63 crores worth 17,58,112 MT of beach sand minerals including Monazite. The vigilance department has come to such inflated figures without any basis. Kindly note that vigilance report has made bizarre and self-contradictory statements on baseless, preposterous and imaginary grounds. When we have filed an application under Right to Information Act, 2005 to obtain a copy of the Vigilance Report, the same was rejected by the authorized officer of the Vigilance & Enforcement Department.”
The report of A.R.Anuradha, Director General (Vigilance & Enforcement), states that “the officials of the Mines and Geology Department have allowed mining operations and issued transit permits for transportation of Beach Sand minerals from the disputed area of 387.72 acres against stipulated conditions. The officials failed to curb mining operations in Vatsalvalasa village Gara Mandal of Srikakulam district.”
Trimex, however, has denied the allegation. “The information pertaining to alleged illegal mining of beach sand minerals and export of atomic minerals is false and wrong. Kindly note that all the mining activities of the company are in conformity with extant laws, rules and regulations. A few private individuals with vested interests and oblique motives and without locus-standi filed complaints with the governments and other agencies on several occasions against us,” it said.
The DG recommended to the Principal Secretary, Revenue Department to “recover 1,295.63 crores as no clearance was given by the Revenue Department for mining in disputed land. Enquiry needs to be initiated against the Tehsildars, Gara Mandal, Srikakulam district who allowed mining operations in disputed areas of un-surveyed land of Vatsavalasa village, Gara Mandal”.
Same report also suggested to Principal Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh to “suspend the mining operations as the mining lease holder had failed to conduct the mining operations in accordance with mining plan under Mineral Concession Rules”. Copies of the report were sent to Principal Secretary, Revenue, Principal Secretary, Industries and Commerce and Chief Secretary, Andhra Pradesh Government, however, mining and illegal export of Monazite continued unabated.
Till date, the Department of Atomic Energy has allegedly not taken any steps over the said huge quantities of Monazite. The mining operations in entire mining lease area is not only causing loss of revenue to the State Government but is also a serious threat to the nation via export of these Beach Sand Minerals which contain Monazite (radioactive mineral). It appears even Indian Rare Earths Elements is not aware of the wrongdoings.
As per the investigations by the Vigilance and Enforcement Directorate of Andhra Pradesh Government, “the Trimex Industries failed to conduct mining operations in accordance to the scheme prescribed for the mining and violated the depth of mining, protection of sand dunes and adequate plantations in and around the mining lease area as per the environment clearance issued by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Government of India vide No. J-11015/175/2011-A-11(M). The Trimex Industries allegedly failed to conduct mining operations in accordance to the scheme of mining approved by the authorities in violation of Rule 22-A of Mineral Conservation and Department Rules, 1988.
Inaction or complicity
The Vigilance and Enforcement Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh vide its another report dated 11.03.2016 recommended “recovery of 1295.63 crores from Trimex Group for illegally mining and selling 17,58,112 MTs of Beach Sand Minerals including Monazite”. The Department also recommended action against various state government officials of revenue department for permitting illegal mining operations by Trimex Industries”.
In action was also recommended against “various officials of Department of Mines and Geology who executed, allowed mining operations and issued transit permits for transportation of Beach Sand Minerals”. Immediate suspension of mining operations was also suggested as these were in violation of Rule 22-A of Mineral Concession Rule 22-A o f Mineral Concession Rules, 1960 and Rule 13 of Mineral Conversation and Department Rules, 1988.
The Government of Andhra Pradesh, in its report, observed that “the firm conducted mining operations in Vatsavalasa, Gara villages in district Srikakulum district against the revenue clearance and minutes of public hearing dated 07.10.2003 issued by the District Collector, Srikakulum.
Investigations will require examining overseas holdings of the group mining companies as also the overseas companies to which exports of atomic minerals have taken place. Hence, this requires a thorough and detailed probe by competent investigative agencies like the CBI, to probe into national and international dimensions of illegal transportation and export of atomic minerals over the last two decades.”
The Trimex version, however, is different.”The Hon’ble High Court restrained the Forest Department from interfering with the mining operation carried out by Trimex in survey numbers 216 & 217 of Vatsavalasa Village, Gara Mandal. Despite such order, the Forest Department tried to interfere with the mining operations in the year 2012 under the pretext that the said Order restrained them only with the mining operations under survey numbers 216 and 217.
Being aggrieved by such arbitrary action, Trimex filed another writ petition and the Hon’ble High Court restrained them from interfering with its mining activities in all the survey numbers, which are covered by G.O i.e. the entire 7.2 sq.kms of the area including the subject land. Both the orders are still in force and subsisting,” the company said in a statement.
The inaction of the government officials despite evidence of the numerous illegalities committed by Trimex Group companies is very obviously the result of considerable influence wielded by its promoters, official lethargy and the close nexus with the decision makers in the highest levels of bureaucracy and political executive, reports suggest. Whether the State and the Centre will take action of their own accord, or leave it to the courts to decide, will unfold now.