June 05, 2010

Trigger-happy Maoists don’t touch state’s mining mafia

By Rajaram Satapathy, TNN, Jun 5, 2010, 02.08 am IST

BHUBANESWAR: The Orissa mining scam, billed by some as the biggest loot of public property ever, has shocked even those who know little of the nitty-gritty of mining operations. In a nutshell, ores were extracted from mines much beyond the permitted limit. In many cases, mining was done without any permission in hand. The trend is still continuing.

A majority of these shady mines are located in the Maoist-dominated areas of Keonjhar and Sundergarh. These two districts have often reported incidents of Maoists attacking construction companies and other establishments for money. But there has been no report as yet of the extremists touching the mining mafia.

The state government has admitted to illegal extraction of ores, but has not come up with figures to quantify the volume of ore siphoned and the loss to the state exchequer. Orissa Jana Samilani, which has taken the scam to the Supreme Court seeking a high-level inquiry, estimates the annual illegal outgo of ore at nearly Rs 8,000 crore continuing for over five years. “This was our preliminary estimate. Now we feel the amount could be much more. Earlier, it was alleged ores were transported by trucks only. Present findings reveal railway has been a major transporter of illegal ore,” Samilani leader Rabi Das said.

Industry minister Raghunath Mohanty said, “The government is seized of the matter. We have taken a series of steps to curb illegal mining.” He attributed the scam to “loopholes in the law”. “There are many holes in the law, which helped people do illegal mining,” asserted.

Officials admitted illegal mining had been detected in all kinds of mines, but the focus was more on iron ore as it fetched huge profits. Revenue from the mining sector has gone up steadily from about Rs 550 crore in 2003-04 to Rs 1,380.5 crore in 2008-09. But who’s gained?

“Orissa may be one of India’s major mineral bearing states. But the fruits of development have always fallen in the hands of the rich making them richer. The poor have got little benefit out of the huge mineral resources lying in their backyard,” said environment activist Biswajit Mohanty.

According to Mohanty, Orissa had been hit by the “resource curse”. “The state has become the favourite destination for mining groups from all over the world. That is why Orissa’s per capita income has not grown much compared to the national average. At 1999-2000 prices, the per capita income of Orissa increased from Rs 7,700 in 1980-81 to Rs 15,100 in 2006-07 while that of the nation grew by 160% from Rs 8,600 in 1980-81 to Rs 22,700,” Mohanty pointed out.

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