Odisha has warned 24 mines of coercive action, like freezing bank accounts, for failing to pay fines ordered by the Supreme Court for overproducing minerals—an unprecedented crackdown on a sector that earns the state vital revenue.
Some mines have not paid even a single rupee as compensation for producing mineral ores in breach of approved limits between 2000-01 and 2010-11. Other businesses said that cannot arrange funds as their mines were inoperative when the Supreme Court ordered the compensation in August 2017. The apex court pronounced the body blow on miners while adjudicating in a case of rampant illegal mining in Odisha filed by the NGO Common Cause.
“After the lessees did not pay their share of compensation, certificate cases were filed at the district level. A total of 39 mine lease holders were booked under the cases. Of these, 15 have made partial payments and have pledged to pay the balance. So, we have spared them. For the rest 24 miners, we have instructed the district authorities to launch coercive action- attaching properties and freezing bank accounts”, said an official source.
Mid-East Integrated Steels, B K Mohanty, Arjun Ladha, Ferro Alloys Corporation (FACOR), B C Deb and S N Das Mohapatra are among the 24 miners. The Keonjhar district administration has already issued orders to crack down on six defaulting lessees.
A mining industry source said, the state government was at the end of its tether and hence, has set off on this extreme step. He feels that the miners lack a credible ground for a legal showdown with the state government. “The order was from the Supreme Court. Miners can’t deny the overproduction of ore. The compensation, too, was fixed by the central empowered committee (CEC), a Supreme Court appointed panel,” he said.
The CEC had extrapolated the compensation amount at Rs 17576.16 crore as notional value of excess production. Predicating on this figure, the apex court in its order asked for full recovery from the erring lessees. Between 2000-01 and 2010-11, miners had illegally unearthed 215.5 million tonnes or iron and manganese ore. The Supreme Court had expressed grave concern over the rapacious scale of mining operations.
Acting upon the court order, the state government had issued show-cause notices to 131 miners for compensation. Separately, the government had raised demand of about Rs 2000 crore as penalty on the lessees for violating forest laws.