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Extend term of MB Shah commission inquiring into illegal mining or face agitation: civil rights groups

By Our Representative
Several civil society bodies have come together to ask the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, to urgently stop the “wrongful termination” of the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry, which was constituted in 2010 in response to growing number of cases of illegal contracting, flouting of royalty payments and encroachment on public lands by large- and small-scale iron ore and manganese ore mining operations in India. A statement issued by a dozen NGOs and concerned individuals said, though the commission's investigations have led to closure of hundreds of illegally operating mines, including one of the nation’s largest iron ore mines in Bellary, its work still remains incomplete.
Threatening agitation in case the commission’s time period is not extended, the statement said, the commission has helped raise “national consciousness on this crucial subject of public concern”, adding, “The unbudging stance of the commission, and also its willingness to hear representations from civil society, has been viewed as a bulwark of environmental and democratic interests. The commission's duration allotted for investigation is now coming to a close, with its October 16, 2013 deadline rapidly approaching, yet it has not visited three of the states listed in its terms of reference TOR – Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.”
It said, a senior activist, Samantha Agarwal – on making several inquiries between July and September 2013 to the Commission's primary onvestigator, Dr UV Singh – was assured that the commission would go to pains to complete the investigation. “Twice in the past, the Ministry extended the duration of the commission upon the latter's requests, so it was assumed that the same procedure would be followed if the allotted time fell short to come to Chhattisgarh. “However, yesterday Agarwal was informed by Dr Singh that although the Commission has requested an extension to complete the investigation, the Ministry has categorically denied it.”
The statement said, this suggests that “the MB Shah Commission of Inquiry would no longer be coming to Chhattisgarh”, quoting Dr Singh as saying that “the commission would send a superficial report to the Ministry without visiting the mining areas”. It also quoted Dr Singh to say that he “could not disclose the reason for the rejection, although he expressed his opinion that the investigation should continue”. Adding, “The termination of a commission in Inquiry as per the Commissions of Inquiry Act (1952) can only be done if the Ministry provides a written reasoning as to why the commission is no longer required”.
Giving examples how the mining scenario has turned from bad to worse, the statement said, “In Chhattisgarh it is well known that the National Mineral Development Corporation’s (NMDC's) Bailadila mine is illegally dumping thousands of tonnes of iron ore fines in the Indravati, Shankhini and Dankini rivers. As far back as 1990, the Union Government’s science and technology cell reported that NMDC’s mining activity and release of effluents into the rivers had damaged not only the rivers but also 35,000 ha of agricultural and forest land around Bailadila.”
Four years later, the state government was forced to declare that 65 villages along the Shankhini and Dankini were affected by the polluted waters and ordered NMDC to dig some 200 wells to provide safe drinking water for these villages. The wells were dug but were too shallow and not even one of them is functional today. The situation in Dalli Rajhara Mines, after fifty years of mining by the Bhilai Steel Plant (BSP), is not much better. Here 90% of the forest land has been converted to open pit mines, which has led to the disappearance of hundreds of bore wells and a consequent severe ground water crisis.
The statement said, “Overall, the present scenario is that 18 mining leases have been sanctioned for iron ore mining of 8758.25 ha of land in Chhattisgarh. The majority of these mines (12 of the 18) are in Bastar region. District wise Dantewada is the top iron ore producer in the state, accounting for 69 per cent of the total output. The forest cover here is as high as 62 per cent, while the tribal population is 79 per cent. For these mines, the adivasis have been displaced from their land illegally, in contravention of the Panchayats Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, 1996 (PASA) and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 (FRA).
It added, the Bhilai Steel Plant’s (BSP’s) 2028.797 hectare Rowghat iron ore mine “virtually none of the affected gram sabhas have granted consent for forest diversion under FRA, which is a requirement for the issuing of Forest Clearance underneath the Forest Conservation Act, 1980. As its terms of reference also required the Commission to look into the overall impact of mining, including its impact on the livelihood of adivasi and forest dwelling communities, these issues would have been a top priority in the Commission's agenda.”
The statement expresses disconcert that “illegal manner in which mines are being privatized throughout the state of Chhattisgarh, and the deployment of security forces to open up mining areas in Bastar are issues of grave concern”, adding, “On one hand the BSP claims it is facing a shortage of iron ore and thus must open up mining in the Rowghat Hills urgently throwing protective procedures for the affected adivasis to the winds. On the other, in the Kacche Mines at Ari Dongri in Kanker, BSP has relinquished its mining lease to the private company Godavari Ispat Ltd on the false premise that the quality of the ore left in Kachhe is substandard and that the mine was unprofitable for BSP.”
Giving example of how privatization of mines it taking place, the statement said, “At present 21 licenses for iron ore prospecting are sanctioned to 17 different mining companies in the Chhattisgarh state. Twenty of 21 leases granted, or over 95%, were granted to private companies. These companies include Tata, Essar, Sarda Energy and Godawari Power and Ispat, all of which have a history of illegal activities in the state. In total these companies have been granted prospecting rights over 16,130.24 hectares of land. The need for the commission to continue its investigation with on site verifications as it has done thus far in Orissa, Goa, Karnataka, and Jharkhand is urgent.”
Given the fact that “the State of Chhattisgarh contains 10% of the country’s iron ore and of the highest quality, thus this is an issue of the proper utilization and preservation of an industrially pre-eminent and precious non-replenishable resource which this nation holds in trust for the generations to come”, the statement says, “We demand that the Ministry provide a detailed explanation in writing for the early termination of this commission, and that it reverse its decision and grant the necessary extension to the Commission. We, who represent affected communities and concerned citizens, will be forced to intensify our public campaign against this wrongful decision”.
Those who have signed the statement include Alok Sukla, convenor, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan; Bijay Panda Bharat, Jan Andolan; Tathagata Sengupta, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan; Samantha Agarwal, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan; Kaushal Sahu, Chhattisgarh Mukti Moorcha-Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti; Sukranjan Usendi, Bhumkaal Sangarsh Moorcha; SR Netam, Akhil Bhartiya Adivasi Mahasabha; Prabhat Pattavi Prithak, Bastar Rajya Party; Keshav Sori, Disha Samaj Sevi Sanstha; Ramakant Banjare, Chhattisgarh Vistappan Virodhi Manch; Indu Netam, convenor, Adivasi Jan Van Adhikar Manch, Chhattisgarh; Kanchi Kohli independent researcher and Ajay TG, Independent film maker.

Gujarat civil society activists request to MB Shah commission: 

A senior official of the MB Shah Commission, inquiring into illegal mining across India, has told a high-level delegation of Gujarat-based activists that the commission is unable to ask the Ministry of Mines, Government of India, to extend its term, which ends on October 16. The Ministry has told the commission to wind up operations. The delegation, consisting of Ashok Shrimali of Samta, Johanna Lokhande and Anupama Vijayakumar of the Centre for Social Justice, and Hiren Gandhi of Insaf, met primary investigator of the commission, Dr UV Singh, on October 11, as Justice Shah was "not available". Singh told the delegation that the commission's work remains incomplete and this has been conveyed to the Ministry twice. But it can't press for extension.

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