The Supreme Court judgment in the Odisha mining scam has once again brought to light the magnitude of the illegality carried out in blatant violation of government norms. In the apex court’s own words, it is a “mining scandal of enormous proportions and one involving megabucks.”
Though the SC refrained from ordering a CBI probe into the scam which may have come as a relief for the BJD government, its direction to erring miners to cough up a 100 per cent penalty will act as a huge deterrent because such companies have, over the years, plundered mineral resources in collusion with the administration.
It holds true not just for Odisha but also for states like Goa and Karnataka. The court’s order for the constitution of an expert committee under a retired SC judge to examine the lapses in Odisha and suggest preventive measures for all states will go a long way in setting things right in the mining sector.
A significant aspect of the judgment are the observations on inter-generational equity and a limit on the extent of mining. The indiscriminate mining in the state, it held, has shown the absence of two things—an ineffective check on mining and non-enforcement of the National Mineral Policy, 2008—probably due to powerful vested interests.
The SC has directed the Centre to make a fresh review of the national policy and come up with a more meaningful and implementable one by December 31; it is the Odisha experience which should serve as a lesson for the Centre. Mineral reserves are finite and must be exploited keeping in mind the demand-side management and the future generations that have equal rights on such resources.
Rough estimates say the mining sector contributes about 2.4 per cent of the GDP and employs over a million; it holds potential for more. The Centre would thus do well to prepare a blueprint for the future that ensures judicious exploitation of mineral resources, one which conserves the ecology and also protects the interest of tribals who are the most affected.