In what could be a major blow to the mining companies involved in illegal operations in Odisha, the Supreme Court on Wednesday imposed 100 per cent penalty on mining lease holders operating without necessary clearances in the state.
A two-member apex court bench comprising Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta asked the companies, which have been served the demand notice by the Odisha government, to deposit the due on or before December 31.
While the state government imposed about Rs 60,000 crore penalty on mines for illegal mining between 2000 to 2010, the Central Empowered Committee, appointed by the apex court, has recommended that at least 30 per cent notional value may be realised from the mining companies.
"The amounts determined as due from all the mining lease holders should be deposited by them on or before December 31, 2017. Subject to and only after compliance with statutory requirements and full payment of compensation and other dues, the mining lease holders can re-start their mining operations," the court said.
The court's direction came on the basis of a Public Interest Litigation filed by the watchdog group Common Cause, which demanded action against lessees that had been pointed out as violating the law by the Justice M.B. Shah Commission on illegal mining.
The bench also refrained to direct a CBI inquiry into the mining scam in Odisha.
It suggested formation of an exert Committee headed by a retired Supreme Court judge to look into the factors that made rampant illegal mining possible in Odisha and elsewhere.
"For the present, we do not propose to direct an investigation or inquiry by the CBI for the reason that what is of immediate concern is to learn lessons from the past so that rapacious mining operations are not repeated in any other part of the country."
"This can be achieved through the identification of lapses and finding solutions to the problems that are faced," said the court.
The court also directed the Centre to have a fresh look at the National Mineral Policy, 2008 and complete the exercise by December 31.
The Odisha government has maintained that it would realise the penalty from the lease holders for excess mining after taking legal opinion on the Supreme Court order.
"We had imposed a fine on the excess production of minerals for mining beyond approved limit. Even though the court has ordered for 100 per cent fine, we have to examine the court order. We will take legal opinion over this. We would recover the amount from the mining companies by December 31," said Mines Director Deepak Mohanty.
He, however, did not disclose what would be the amount to be realised from the lessees. He said the department may revisit the demand notice sent to the mining companies after legal consultation.
Reacting to the court order, Eastern Zonal Mining Association (EZMA) General Secretary Prabodh Mohanty said since out of 187 mines, 102 are closed, the lease holders are not in a position to pay the penalty to the state government.
"We are examining the court order. If required, we may move the Supreme Court and file a review petition in this regard," said Mohanty.