11th October: The Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry was constituted in 2010 by the Ministry of Mines in response to the 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 throughout the country. The Commissions’ duration allotted for investigation is coming to a close on 16th October 2013, yet the Commission has not visited three of the states listed in its TOR (Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, and MP). Having anticipated the dearth of time, Ms Samantha Agarwal of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan made numerous inquiries between July and September 2013 to the Commission’s Primary Investigator, Dr. UV Singh on our behalf, and he assured that the commission would definitely complete the investigation. However, on 1st October Ms. Agarwal was informed by Dr. Singh that although the Commission has requested an extension to complete the investigation, the Ministry of Mines has categorically denied its request, thus the MB Shah Commission of Inquiry would no longer be coming to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra.
Immediately after hearing this information, on 2nd October, members of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan and other civil society groups submit a letter to the Ministry of Mines with the demand that the duration of the Commission be extended and a request that it provide an answer as to why the Commission was terminated prior to visiting the Chhattisgarh State. The letter also outlined some of the major violations of forest and environmental law in Chhattisgarh by iron ore mining companies like NMDC, SAIL, Godawari Ispat Ltd, Jayaswal Neco Pvt Ltc. Yet the Ministry till date has not bothered to respond to our letter, and when members of this delegation phoned the Secretary to MoM, Mr. RH Khwaja, he refused to comment on this matter.
In order to break the Ministry’s silence, on October 11th, a delegation of seven people from Chhattisgarh including Narayan Markam (President of Gond Community), Pradip Komra (Secretary of Gondwana Samanvay Samiti), Bhupendra Darro (Akhil Bhartiya Gondwana Gond Mahasabha), Keshav Sori (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), Samantha Agarwal (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), and two traditional tribal leaders, Mehturam Darro and Mansay Darro, representing 168 villages total, came to Delhi. We were to again press for an extension in the duration of the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry. Yet instead of having our concerns addressed, we were informed that the Secretary was on leave, and were refused entry to the Ministry despite us having requested an appointment with the Director in advance. Finally, after we insisted that we be allowed entry, the Joint Secretary to the Ministry, Mr. Naresh Kumar, met with only three members of our delegation. In this meeting, Mr. Kumar remarked that “issues of forest, agricultural degradation are not within the Ministry’s purview”, despite the Commission’s TOR explicitly stating that its purpose is to inquire into illegal acts of mining “in terms of destruction of forest wealth, damage to the environment, prejudice to livelihood and other rights of tribal people, forest dwellers and other persons in the mined areas.”
While in Delhi the Chhattisgarh delegation members held a press conference at the Women’s Press Corps, New Delhi where Advocate Prashant Bhushan lambasted the Ministry for its premature termination of the Commission. He said, “There are many Commissions which have been pending in this country for so long, which have not done anything. But when the government forms a Commission that is genuinely concerned with matters of the environment and adivasi livelihood, it prevent [the Commission] from operating”. He also categorically stated that he is “prepared to go to The Supreme Court on this matter“.
At the same time, when a delegation of civil society groups from across the state of Gujarat including the Center for Social Justice visited the Justice MB Shah Commission’s Office in Ahmedabad on 11th October, Dr. UV Singh revealed that the Ministry was putting tremendous pressure on the Commission to wrap up the investigation and submit its final report by October 14th. He said, “Justice Shah is very angry with the way the Ministry is behaving. It has denied an extension despite knowing that there are three states which we haven’t yet covered and that our reports would be incomplete [if the Commission were to terminate now]”. The Gujarat based delegation submit a written memorandum to the Commission with the request that they ask for a detailed reasoning for the termination in writing, however Dr. Singh responded that the Commission could not write to the Ministry for an extension given the “immense pressure” it is facing [from the Ministry of Mines].
The Ministry’s decision to quietly pull the plug from the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry is a political maneuver to cover up the massive theft of public resources and egregious damage to the environment which has been facilitated by the UPA Central and BJP state governments. We urge you to kindly report on this issue with urgency, prior to the 16th October termination of the Commission.
Please see the MEMORNADUM TO MinistryofMines_ShahCommmissionTermination which was submit to the Ministry on 11th October and contains more details about the mining scenario in Chhattisgarh.
For additional information contact Samantha Agarwal at 9818419416.