As many as 16 mining companies engaged by various cements plants in Meghalaya were found to have extracted limestone for years without getting mandatory clearances from Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and recommended cancellation of the mining leases.
"Out of the 16 mining leases granted for carrying out mining of limestone in the state, only one mining company (owned by French Cement major, Lafarge) has obtained clearances from the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)," Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said in its latest report tabled in the state Assembly earlier this week.
"None of the lease holders have obtained clearance from the MoEF as stipulated in the condition set by the Controller of Mines while approving the mining plan," it said.
The CAG has also recommended cancellation of the mining leases of the holders so as to prevent them from carrying out further mining activities in forest areas.
Among those cement companies indicted by the CAG include three leases each owned by Adhunic Cements Ltd (which is owned by Dalmia group) and CMCL (that produces Star Cements) and state-owned Mawmluh Cherra Cements Ltd, besides seven others.
Criticising the state government, the CAG report said, "In fact the forest department has no idea as to whether the mining lease areas it granted forest clearance fall within forest area".
A High Level Committee comprising of an Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest from the MoEF and the state Conservator of Forest, later found out that 38.11 ha out of 42.87 ha fall within forest areas, in contravention of the Mineral Conservation and Development Rules, 1988.
The CAG has also pulled up the state's Mining and Geology department for its failure to cancel the mining leases and levy penalty on all errant companies for carrying out mining without obtaining MoEF clearance in gross violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980, as well.
Recommending cancellation of the leases, the CAG has also sought the state government's action against officers responsible for allowing mining of limestone in forest areas.
The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has projected to have an inferred reserve of more than 4,000 million tones of limestone and till date the proven reserves are more than 500 million tonnes.