Does government know about this rapacious environment loot? By the bash of mining river Baitarani always beleaguer, Baitarani is beck of mining mafia. Mining mafia's brigandage in river Baitarani is continuing. Who will protect Baitarani's bounties? It's the right time to provide breather for Baitarani otherwise it will breathless and bone-dry. After Shah Commission's report now Baitarani and mining is a bone of contention.
Justice M B Shah Commission's report is yet to be put in Public domain. Leave aside the public domain; even the Supreme Court of India does not have access to this report as yet. But whatever is being learnt from the media reports and through the Ministry of Environment and Forest's desperate attempt to initiate some action by writing to the state government of Odisha, shocking will be a much softer a word to describe it.
Justice Shah Commission, that investigated the illegal mining in Odisha, has recommended that 55 mines located close to river Baitarani and its tributaries that have direct impact on the health of the river may be kept closed till the environmental approval to these mines are revisited by a panel of experts.
These mines are operated by 40 companies that includes some of the big names like Tata Steel, Jindal Steel and Mines, Sarada mining, Rungta Mines, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL), Ferro Alloys Corporation (FACOR), Adhunik Metaliks, SN Mohanty, Pabodh Mohanty, BPME, Patnaik Minerals, Kalinga Mining Corporation, the state run Odisha Mining Corporation etc.
Shah Commission has reportedly said that a definite decision should be taken on whether to allow large-scale mining leases to operate in the catchment area of the river Baitarani that is lifeline of three districts in the state. The commission has observed that unscientific and unsustainable explosive mining of iron and manganese ores has a high impact on the very existence of the Baitarani river and its tributaries. No effective measures have been taken to mitigate such problems.
Ministry of Environment and Forest in its desperation to at least report that some action has been taken, has ordered the Odisha government to the lease of 55 mines located near river Baitarani and its tributaries. It has instructed the state government to serve these mines show cause notice as to why their lease should not be cancelled given that they have been mining in this area in violation of the Environment Protection Act and other relevant acts.
Odisha government on its part has instructed the district collectors of five mining districts of the state to file cases against miners, who have been found to have violated the Environment Protection Act but have managed to escape prosecution so far. The Secretary of the Environment and Forests Department R. K. Sharma has asked the District Collectors of Sundargarh, Jajpur, Bolangir, Rayagada and Keonjhar on 25th January to immediately file prosecution and submit the copies of complaints filed in the criminal courts to the secretary without delay. The collectors have been asked to monitor the cases personally.
Now the Odisha government is putting in yet another effort so that “justice seem to be delivered” on the environmental front. But, going by the past records one could not be very optimistic.
It is reported that the Forest and Environment department of Odisha has decided to file prosecution against 119 cases in these five districts. As a response to the MoEF order, the details of these cases which were filed in the local courts will be forwarded to the Centre with details. But these cases were filed in yet another desperate effort just before the visit of the Commission.
Even the Commission’s report has observed that the government had filed the bulk of the cases on the eve of the Commission’s visit to the state. It also has noted that the state police and other state authorities are incapable of carrying out a thorough probe and catching the powerful but guilty parties. Those who are in the know of the things say that this is another whitewashing effort. The cases against these mines are not strong enough to stand in the court of law and result in action.
But, what is more than shocking is the scale in which the environment protection Act was being violated in the state of Odisha. It is not a stray case where the state government has forgotten, over sighted or failed to enforce the EPA. Not, one or two, 55 mines in the vicinity of river Baitarani have cared a hoot for the environment.
The Commission in its report has observed that during the rainy season highly polluted muddy and turbid water from the waste dump from 176 leases located in the district of Keonjhar and Mayurbnaj has been responsible for the silting of the rivers and rivulets and have been highly detrimental to the aquatic life of the rivers as well as the estuarine area in Bay of Bengal.
The report has said that the network of water channels and small nallas originating from hill tops and heavily forested slopes are now "completely shattered due to large mining pits, dumps, roads and other mining activities. It has added that due to mining agriculture and minor forest produce collection that sustains the tribals for a large chunk of the year has been greatly affected.
One is tempted to question what the Forest and Environment Department, Odisha State Pollution Control Board, Odisha Water Resources Department were doing all these years while one of the six large rivers of the state, Baitarani, was systematically decimated. Odisha State Pollution Control Board has the responsibility of monitoring the pollution of water, air etc. What the Forest and environment department was doing? And what was done by the Water Resources Department that is supposed to be the custodian of the rivers bestowed with the responsibility of safeguarding the health of the rivers?
No one simply bothered. It is not that these things happened overnight and these departments and agencies were caught off guard. These violations have been taking place since 1992 as per the Commission's report. In fact there has not been any effort to protect the rivulets and the river in the first place. The Commission has reportedly said that "on perusal of approved environmental clearances given by the Environment Ministry, it is observed that the information inputs of rivulets, water courses and rivers in and around mines are either incomplete or suppressed or false."
And the state outfits were not the only ones who have faltered. Even the MoEF has not cared a hoot for enforcement of the Environment Protection Act. Sangram Keshari, a well known green activist of the state says, “ Environment Protection Act is a piece of legislation that no one is interested in. It is natural that the miners, the department of mines and other related departments are not interested in it. But, even those who have the mandate to enforce it, are not interested in implement it. Rather say, they have a vested interest in non-implementation of EPA.”
Shah Commission also has recommended that action should be taken against those who are guilty and have allowed the mines to run without proper clearances. But hardly anyone believes that any punitive measures will be taken against those guilty. A state that has tolerated non-collection of legitimate revenues for years together and allowing the mines to operate with impunity seems to be neither interested in the protection of environment nor in augmentation of the state funds, rather in private fund generation by a vested interest group scattered all across the spectrum. A glaring example of this is the collection of net present value for the forest land diverted for mining.
Rs 813.4 crore is not paid by the mining companies against the net present value (NPV) of the forest land diverted to facilitate exploration of minerals. Payment of NPV is part of the mining licensing procedure. But the forest department was napping happily till 27th January 2014, that is when the Secretary Department of Forest and Environment R.K. Sharma directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) to withdraw forest clearance from the working mines, if they fail to pay their NPV towards forest land diversion latest by February 28.
And Odisha government afforded to nap happily despite a Supreme Court order on 7th May, 2010 to recover outstanding NPV dues for the miners. The state government has proposed to spend about Rs 801 crore from the additional NPV for the development of the livelihood of tribals and infrastructure development of the mining areas. A project report also has been prepared by Odisha that is still awaiting the final approval of the MoEF. This fund will be spent in seven mineral bearing districts. The plan for spending also has been made, but the proper fund has not been collected. Out of the outstanding NPV of 813.4 crore the state run Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) only owes Rs 276.90 crore to the forest and environment department that is more than third of the total outstanding dues.
“The overall situation is quite depressing. There are good laws and rules for the protection of environment and protection of interest of people. But, the way these rules and acts are being manipulated, even by the ministries and departments who should be enforcing them is quite distressing. Can the environment be left to the cares of the disjointed works of a few activists on the ground whom the government and the vested interest is quite prompt in declaring as anti-development or naxals? Today I think that these activists are doing a better job than the governments put together, even though for the development sector ‘activist’ is a dirty work,” said an activist working on mining and displacement issues in Keonjhar. May be he has summed up the whole process aptly.
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