There is a lot at stake for each one of them. The UPA stands to have his already sullied image further eroded if the apex court rejects its fig leaf of parliamentary privilege to refuse to place the report that severely indicts it in the court.
As for the Naveen government, its worst nightmare could come true if the bench headed by Justice AK Patnaik starts looking too closely at the findings of the Commission, which holds it, with the required cooperation from the Central government, squarely responsible for allowing the massive and sustained loot of the rich mineral resources of the state, causing a loss of at least Rs 60, 000 crores. What it fears most is that a close scrutiny of the findings of the Commission may lead the Supreme Court to order a CBI inquiry into the scam, something that it has moved heaven and hearth to prevent so far.
Given the fact that the apex court has rejected outright the state government’s plea against a CBI inquiry in another case – the chit fund scam in the scam – with much less material on hand, the possibility of a CBI probe in the mining scam certainly looks real. Without (as expected) an obliging UPA government to help it out at the Centre after the parliamentary elections in April-May this year, it is a prospect that Naveen has reason to dread.
But perhaps the one stakeholder that is losing all sleep is the private mining sector, which stands to lose a good part of the booty that it earned in the Great Odisha Mining Scam. The Commission has recommended the recovery of the Rs 60, 000 from the mining companies, which they earned through disdainful violation of all mining and environmental laws.
Even more ominously, it has recommended a total ban on mining operations along the Baitarani river which, if accepted, could effectively mean the closure of many steel plants in the country. What the mining sector also stands to lose is considerable face since the alleged violators include come of the most respected corporate houses in the country like the Tatas, Aditya Birla Group, Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) and even Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL), the public sector steel behemoth.
Worried about where the Shah Commission report might ultimately land them, the Centre and the state government have now launched an elaborate charade to show that they are ‘acting’. The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) has recently asked the Odisha government to serve show cause notices to as many as 55 companies for excess mining in violation of green laws as a precursor to cancellation of their mining leases as recommended by the Shah Commission. On its part, the Odisha government has asked the collectors of the three concerned districts – Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj – for details of the prosecution launchedin the local SDJM/JMFC courts for onward transmission to the MoEF.
It is interesting to note what the Commission itself thought about the cases registered against the guilty mining companies that the Odisha government is now banking on to save its skin – and face. “The cases filed before the JMFC and others are mainly to cover up such a big scandal and for finding a way out to escape. Such a large magnitude of illegal mining cannot take place without a conspiracy,” the Commission said in its report pointing to the fact a vast majority of them were filed “just before the visit of the Commission to the state.”
In recommending a CBI inquiry into the mining scam in the state, the Commission has not only debunked the probe conducted by the state vigilance, but has gone a step further saying it is simply beyond it. Since “persons in political life, mighty lessees and some corrupt officials” are involved in the scam, it will not be possible on the part of the state vigilance or police to find out the facts, the Commission said in its report.
The buzz right now is that the UPA and Naveen will do everything that they possibly can to prevent the Commission’s damning report from being made public. That is what the Centre was doing when it declined to place the report in the Supreme Court on the ground that it has to be first placed in the parliament. While it knows that the report cannot be kept under wraps forever, the idea is to delay it at least till the Lok Sabha polls so as to limit its damage potential in the election.
For the Naveen Patnaik government, however, the stakes are much higher. While the UPA perhaps already knows it is not going to return to power this time – and thus does not have to bother overmuch about the fall-out of the Commission report – Naveen Patnaik does not have such a luxury since all accounts suggest he is set to win a record fourth successive term as Chief Minister.