The state government today defended its decision to resume mining at Kurmitar iron ore mines of Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) citing that operations of the state run mine would help mitigate raw material crunch faced by industries.
During a query raised by members of the Supreme Court appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) today, the government said such a decision was taken in the interest of local steel units who depend on ore supplies from OMC, according to an official source.
The apex court on May 16 had asked the Odisha government to halt mining operations at 26 mines which were waiting for second and subsequent renewal of their leases. It had also directed the state government to take steps to expedite renewal process of all the mines, especially the captive mines of Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and Tata Steel within six months of the order.
On May 29, the state government allowed operations of eight iron ore mines through an express order, including one mine of OMC, invoking special provision mentioned in the Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act. The other mines that were allowed to restart operations include four held by Tata Steel - Bamebari, Katamati, Joda East and Joda West and three leases of SAIL.
The decision to allow OMC's mine to resume operations, despite being a merchant miner, was criticised by miners who had questioned the legal validity of the decision.
Apart from OMC, the CEC members had day-long discussions with the officials of mines department on the statutory clearances of all other mines.
The CEC team today verified the status of such mines by reviewing the documents.
Based on the CEC report on pending second and subsequent renewal of mining leases, the apex court had suspended operations in 26 mines in the state operating under the provisions of 'deemed extensions' under Section 24-A (6) of Mineral Concession Rules (MCR), 1960.
The apex court in its interim order held that such mines cannot continue operations without express orders of the state government. It may be noted that the CEC in its report on illegal mining in Odisha submitted in April 2010 had pointed out the misuse of 'deemed extension' clause. The committee had observed that a large number of mines have remained operational for long periods of time after the expiry of the lease period because of the delays in taking decisions on the renewal applications filed by the leaseholders.