The merchant miners in Odisha have resented the ‘discriminatory’ approach of the state government, which allowed eight mines of Tata Steel, Steel Authority India (SAIL) and Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) to resume work while leaving the operation at rest 18 mines, which were closed because of a Supreme Court order, remain suspended.
Mining lobby body Society of Geo-scientists and Allied Technologists (SGAT) today demanded that the state government should allow operation at the rest 18 merchant mines by invoking special provisions mentioned in the mining laws, as it has already allowed standalone mine of state-owned OMC to operate despite restrictions imposed by the Supreme Court.
“OMC is a merchant miner like other standalone mines and the state government has allowed it to operate even as the apex court order specifically stated to ease restrictions only for captive mines. The government then must allow other mines to operate as they have halted production due to the Supreme Court order,” said B K Mohanty, advisor, SGAT and former director, state geology department. The Supreme Court on May 16 had asked Odisha government to halt mining operation at 26 mines which were waiting for second and third lease renewal, citing that automatic renewal of mines lease after 20 years of first renewal was illegal. It had also said the state government must take steps to expedite renewal process of all the mines, especially of captive mines of SAIL and Tata Steel, within six months from the order. The order affected large merchant miners such as KJS Ahluwalia and Rungta Sons.
On May 29, the state government allowed eight iron ore mines through an express order to resume operation including one mine of OMC invoking special provision mentioned in the Mines and Mineral Development and Regulation (MMDR) Act , nearly two weeks after it had directed them to halt production. The mines which were benefited by the decision of the state government were four iron ore mines of Tata Steel (Joda East, Joda West, Katamati, Bamebari), three mines of Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and one iron ore mines of Odisha Mining Corporation (OMC) at Kurmitar. SGAT said, since OMC being a standalone miner has been allowed to operate, then the rest of the 18 mines must also get approval for operation. The government must stop discriminating between captive and standalone mines, it added. “We suggest that standalone mines are essential for support and sustenance of steel plants that do not have captive mines and this fact has been endorsed in the National Mineral Policy 2008. The term mineral development should be properly interpreted,” SGAT said in a press statement.
Apart from demand to reopen large merchant mines by issuing express orders and taking steps to grant renewal of mining leases, the SGAT suggested that the state government must put efforts to create proper environment for investment in mining technology and allow operation of nearly 400 mines, which are closed since 2009 due to non-availability of clearances and delays in administrative approvals.