Bhubaneswar: Orissa is in the shadow of perhaps one its biggest mining scams, worth Rs 50,000 crore. And now, a probe has been ordered by the Supreme Court into the alleged illegal mining in this belt, particularly Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj districts, adjoining Jharkhand.
A petition in the Supreme Court claims that of the 300 major mines in this belt leases of 155 have expired for years now, some as early as the year 2000.
Yet plunder of the mines continues.
Among the biggest defaulters are the who's who of the mining industry, including Rungta Mines, Essel Mines, Sarada (Jindal Steel & Power Limited), Arjun Lodha Mines, Orissa Mining Corporation, Sirajuddin & Co, Adhunik Metalics and B D Patnaik Mines.
In the mineral rich states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, mining money has always been inextricably linked to power play and politics of the region. No wonder then that in the mining belt of Orissa the petitioners found the illegal mining money was mostly used for the recent election campaigns.
"Suddenly the election expenditure of candidates grew ten-fold. Where did this money come from? And when we inquired we found that all the money has come from mines. It's the biggest scam in post-Independence India, nothing less than Rs 50,000 crore, even more," said Rabi Das, the petitioner and president of Orissa Jan Sammilani. He is also a senior journalist.
The Supreme Court has asked its Centrally Empowered Committee to inquire into the allegations and report within six weeks.
As if on cue, the state has suspended 482 mineral trading licenses and stopped mining in 64 mines, charging them with illegal operations.
"The huge workload, the huge mines operations, to control all these. It came all of a sudden, so the administration is not in a position to tackle all these situations," said Jyoti Ranjan Patnaik, Director, Mining, Orissa.
The state that tops the poverty charts did too little to stop the plunder. Now, the damage control exercise appears to have come a little too late.