The Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by former Justice MB Shah will hand over criminal probe into the illegal iron ore mining scam to the CBI. To start with, CBI would be looking at Odisha, where illegal iron ore mining is pegged at over Rs 59,000 crore.
The scam involves several companies including big names like Odisha Mining Corporation Ltd (OMC), Sharda Mines (P) Ltd, Tata Steel, Serajudin and Company, KJS Ahluwalia, Mideast Integrated Steel Ltd (MESCO), Rungta Mines, BICO, Indrani Patnaik, Aryan Mining and several others.
The companies have been indicted on several grounds like illegal renewal of licences, transfer of leases, mining without forest clearances, encroachments, illegal iron exports, revenue losses and corruption. Apart from these companies, the scam also involves role of state government officials and politicians.
Highly placed sources in SIT told dna, “The idea was mooted by former justice Arijit Passayat as the state governments and other government departments have failed to take any action. Justice Shah too supported the idea and the decision came unanimously.” The team also includes officials from CBDT, income tax, enforcement directorate, central excise and other government departments.
A member of SIT on condition of anonymity said, “SIT would soon meet CBI officials to chalk out modalities as the investigation agency is under manpower crunch and has already conveyed it. The date is not finalised yet.”
Interestingly, in an interview to dna investigating team last week, when asked if he is disappointed as mining leases of miners indicted by him have got renewal, Justice Shah said, “No question of disappointment. I had suggested CBI inquiry and probably other departments will suggest the same. I feel there would be a CBI inquiry.”
The illegal iron ore mining in Odisha has been probed by two agencies till date. In 2010, Centre appointed Justice MB Shah committee to look into illegal iron ore mining in states of Odisha, Goa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, but wrapped it before it could investigate Chhattisgarh. Similarly, Supreme Court also appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) was also asked to probe the scam and present its report.
According to the Shah Commission report during 2000-01 to 2009-10, the Odisha state government had issued 146 notices for excess/illegal mining or iron and manganese extraction amounting to Rs 59,203 crore and had asked the state government to recover it.
The commission report clearly stated that average profit on per tonne of iron ore increased from Rs 139.78 per tonne in 2001-2002 to Rs 3,237.64 per tonne in 2010-11 for the companies mining in Odisha. Besides, in 2011, South Eastern Railway detected cases of freight charge evasion and issued demand notices to 14 companies for Rs 1,874 crore.
In case of Sarda Mines, CEC alleged serious illegalities and irregularities. It had found “unholy nexus” between Sharda Mines and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL). The committee probed into allegations that Sharda Mines is actually owned and controlled by Jindal Steel and Power Ltd through its business associates, ex-employees and directors/employees of associated companies of JSPL.
Similarly, various companies like OMDC, Tata Steel, Serajudin and Company, Rungta Mines Ltd, BICO, Rungta Songs (P) Ltd along with nine other companies were found to extract iron ore above 50 lakh million tonnes illegally. These 14 lessees account for 72.83 percent and 57.86 percent respectively of production of iron ore and manganese.
The Shah commission in its report had said that since this is one of the biggest illegal mining ever observed by the commission, it is strongly felt that this is a fit case to be handed over to CBI, for further investigation and follow up action. It also suggested CBI to investigate into allegations of corruption against politicians, bureaucrats and others. Shah commission had nailed several bureaucrats and officials from forest and mining department apart from railways.