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Activists to seek ban on Odisha mines (April)

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, on behalf of non-governmental organization (NGO) Common Cause, will seek a temporary ban on Monday on mines in Odisha that don’t have clearances, in what threatens to disrupt supplies from the most important mineral-producing state, after similar cases in Goa and Karnataka crippled iron ore production. “We will ask for a ban on whoever is doing mining without clearances, it could be environment clearance, it could be forest clearance,” said Pranav Sachdeva, a lawyer and associate of Bhushan, who also fought the case for the NGO Goa Foundation, against illegal mining in Goa, where mining was reopened this week after a 18-month ban.


Sachdeva said the plea will be for those mines to be closed temporarily that feature in the M.B. Shah commission’s report on illegal mining in the state submitted earlier this year. “This could be above 100 mines,” Sachdeva said. Activists and environmentalists have highlighted illegal mining and environment degradation across states in India for the past several years, and the Supreme Court (SC) case against miners in Karnataka and Goa in the last two years regularized the sector, even though iron ore production was hurt. Sachdeva said the case of Odisha would be wider as it covers many minerals and also the “scale of the illegality is much larger”.


An analyst said the case could tighten the supply of many minerals since Odisha is a large producer of coal, iron ore, chromite and bauxite. Odisha is the largest iron ore producing state. In 2012-13, it accounted for nearly 45% of India’s total iron ore production of 143 million tonnes (mt), according to Oreteam, an iron ore and steel information website. “Odisha is likely to be the next Goa,” said Prakash Duvvuri, head of research at Oreteam. “A ban would be bad as up to 50% of the mineral supply of the country could be hurt and imports could get a boost.” Large companies with captive mines such as Tata Steel Ltd, Aditya Birla group’s Essel Mining and Industries Ltd and even the state-run Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) could be threatened by the latest lawsuit on mining, according to Duvvuri. The spokespersons of SAIL and Tata Steel said the petition was being studied by their legal division. A spokesperson from Aditya Birla group said officials were unavailable for comment.


The petitioner Common Cause has sought the implementation of the Shah commission’s recommendations, seeking a closure of illegal mining, action on defaulters and for the penalties collected to be directed towards the welfare of tribals and villagers. The petition also asks for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into mining in Odisha and for restoration and revegetation of natural surroundings. It asks for all mined ore to be tracked electronically and sold via electronic auctions. The state government would meet the central empowered committee that has been appointed by the Supreme Court to decide what interim orders could be issued, a news report in Sun Times of Odisha on Wednesday said. One strategy of the state government could be to issue leases and clearances to those companies working on deemed leases so far, Duvvuri said. The mining director for Odisha declined to comment on the matter.







Mint, Delhi, 25 April, 2014