Advertisement

  • News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
  • Editorial Calendar 19-20
BW Businessworld

Illegal Mining In Jharkhand: A Complex Tangle

Does the Government have provisions to refund penalties to defaulters that have indeed flouted the set norms but liable to claim immunity from charges for procedural lapses?

Photo Credit :

1490775192_2Sx6rL_coalmine-reu.jpg

Amidst legal battles to get relief from being ‘fleeced’ in the garb of violation of norms, mining magnate m/s Shah Brothers has suffered a major jolt with the Jharkhand Government’s decision to cancel its mining lease. Incidentally, the company is believed to be victim of a breach of agreement by the State Government that granted conditional permission to the former to continue with its operations on part payment of penalty in the light of the court order.

Even as many other mining lessees in the State are faced with similar punitive action for violation of norms, the m/s  Shah Brothers has been in the spotlight for enjoying the patronage of the powers-that-be time and again. In collusion with high-ups in the Government, the company has been accused of obtaining the legal nod to flout the norms.

While the State Government has raised the demand for one-time payment of penalty from defaulters against violation of norms in the light of the Supreme Court order, the Shah Brothers had challenged it in the Jharkhand High Court. It filed a writ petition against the impugned demand made by the State Government to pay one time payment of accumulative penalties of Rs. 250 crore. The company sought judicial intervention to ensure payment of the penalty in instalments. Ironically, unlike other defaulters, the company managed to get a court order in its favour allegedly misleading the court in connivance with Advocate General, Ajit Kumar.

Subsequently, political leaders such as former Chief Minister and JVM supremo Babulal Marandi and senior BJP leader and Minister in the BJP-led Raghubar Das Government in the State, Sarju Rai accused the Advocate General of misleading the court. Reacting to the submission by the AG in the court that the Government had an agreement with the Shah Brothers for payment of penalty in instalments, these political stalwarts claimed that the department concerned did not have any such pact with the company and they asked the Chief Minister to remove the AG forthwith and constitute a high-level enquiry into the matter. Incidentally, neither the AG was removed nor was the enquiry set up.

More, Jharkhand Pradesh Congress Committee and an individual petitioner as well have lodged complaints in the State Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) against the undue favours made to the company.

As per the court order, the State Government was supposed to realise Rs. 250 crore penalty in different instalments between October 2018 to September 2020 and with the payment of first instalment of Rs. 40 crore, the State Government was directed to issue transit permit (challan) to the company. Complying with the order, the company is claimed to have made payment of penalty to the tune of Rs. 91 crore so far.

Incidentally, the payment made by the company was of no avail as the Government denied to issue the transit permit for want of mandatory clearances. In the backdrop of the hearing by Additional Chief Secretary-cum-Member to the Board of Revenue, Indu Shekhar Chaturvedi – who was entrusted with the task to provide fair opportunity to the defaulters to be heard by a competent authority – various lapses on the part of the company were found true. In his observation, Chaturvedi is said to have endorsed charges levelled by the Mining department against the company. The company was accused of keeping forest clearance at bay, ignoring environment clearances, conducting mining operations beyond the leased area, etc. Consequently, in a major reversal to its ploy for working in tandem with the company to enjoy eventual returns, the Government resolved to cancel the mining lease of Shah Brothers along with other defaulters for obvious reasons.

Sources privy to the Chief Minister Office claimed that of the total 21 mining lease defaulters, the fate of the 18 mining companies – barring three that are said to have availed of benefits of doubt during the hearing by Chaturvedi for want of documents – hang in the balance. Chief Minister Raghubar Das, who happens to be the Mines Minister of the State too, has  endorsed the proposal for cancellation of mining lease of 18 companies. Incidentally, these defaulters have also paid penalties to the tune of over Rs. 1000 crore.     

While persuading the defaulters to pay penalties, the State Government, however, cited the famous judgment of the Supreme Court that was issued in connection with the petition filed by Common Cause against illegal mining in Odisha to realise 100 per cent compensation. Even as it was a specific order passed by the SC against illegal mining in three districts of Odisha, namely Kendujhar, Sundargarh and Mayurbhanj, the Jharkhand Government pounced on the judgement to reap pecuniary benefits. However, the Jharkhand Government has neither filed Intervener Application (IA) in the Supreme Court seeking the judgement to be used in the State nor has it had direction from the apex court to enforce the ruling in Jharkhand. The Supreme Court had also ruled that if defaulters failed to pay the penalties by December 31, 2017, they would also be liable to pay 24 per cent annual interests on their dues. More, the SC directed to use the compensation recovered from the defaulters for the welfare of the tribal community- albeit, those belonging to the specific three affected districts of Odisha.

Meanwhile, whether the specific judgment of the SC against illegal mining operations in Odisha is applicable in Jharkhand, is another pertinent question that has to be resolved. It was submitted in the Jharkhand High Court that the judgement in Common Cause was lessee specific, production specific and territory specific and as such, whether the judgment conferred powers on the Jharkhand Government to recover the compensation or not? The matter about applicability of the SC judgment in Jharkhand has, however, been referred to the double bench for further observations.

To top it all, the question doing the rounds now is: If the SC ruling on Common Cause petition does not stand applicable in the State of Jharkhand, what will happen to the huge amount of money that was realised in form of penalties from Shah Brothers and others in the light of the SC judgment? Does the Government have provisions to refund penalties to defaulters that have indeed flouted the set norms but liable to claim immunity from charges for procedural lapses? Three lessees are said to have already initiated steps to get their penalty amount back. 

Meanwhile, the company has filed contempt petition in the Jharkhand High Court against non-compliance of the order to issue transit permit on payment of the first instalment of Rs. 40 crore by the company. The matter has been posted for hearing on January 4.


Tags assigned to this article:
jharkhand mining scam