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Centre defends decision to wind up Shah Commission


Deccan Herald, New Delhi,  25 November 2013

The Centre has defended its decision to wind up the Justice M B Shah Commission, which inquired into illegal mining activities across several states, saying that its original tenure had already been extended from 18 to 33 months.


The panel was set up on November 22, 2010, to inquire into alleged large scale illegal mining of iron and manganese ore in the country. It had several volumes of reports since its first sitting on January 16, 2011.


An application was filed before the Supreme Court by advocate Prashant Bhushan on behalf of NGO Goa Foundation and a social activist, challenging the government’s decision not extend its tenure from October 16, this year.


They claimed that the Centre’s decision came just before the Commission could complete its probe into alleged illegal mining in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.


“An interim report on preliminary inquiry in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa has spelt out the broad contours of the violations, illegalities – statutory violations, related to renewals, excess production, amalgamation, encroachment and violation of other statutory provisions relating to environment, forest, wildlife and air, water, pollution. Based on the interim report, action has already been taken or is being by taken by Ministry of Mines,” the affidavit said.


In response to the charges, the Ministry said that the apex court has done a comprehensive investigation with respect of illegal mining of iron ore in Karnataka. As far as states like Goa, Jharkhand and Odisha  are concerned, the panel had submitted different volumes of reports, it said.


“The states of Goa, Odisha and Karnataka between them accounted for about 70.42 per cent of iron ore production. The remainder 29.58 per cent of iron ore production is done in the states of Chhattisgarh (14.35 per cent) and Jharkhand (10.66 per cent) and others (4.57 per cent),” it said.


For completing inquiry into Jharkhand, the panel was given three months extension. With regard to Chhattisgarh, the ministry claimed that 98 per cent of mining was done by public sector undertakings (PSUs) only.


The panel’s report on Goa mining had forced the Ministry of Environment and Forests in September to suspend 139 environment clearances granted for 182 mining leases there, the plea claimed.


In its plea, the petitioners urged the court to direct the Centre to grant one year extension to Justice Shah Commission.


The commission, headed by Justice Shah, a former Supreme Court  judge, was given terms of reference to go into the nature and extent of illegal mining, trade, transportation and to inquire into tampering of official records and overall impact of such mining on forest health and environment.


Besides, it was also told to recommend remedial measures to prevent such mining and submit its report to the Central government.