SRIKAKULAM: Despite being slapped with hefty penalties for illegal mining, the contracting agencies of the Vamsadhara project continue to mine the area for metal and gravel sans requisite permits. The officials from the mines and geology department said that the illegal activity has been going on since 2016.
Even though the contracting firms have been mining the area for over two years, the issue came to light only recently when vigilance officer from the mines and geology department, R Pratap Reddy, inspected the project site in March and slapped fines on the contracting firms -- Sri Sai Laxmi Construction Company (88th package) and Rithwik Projects Private limited (87th package) -- to the tune of `10 crore after finding violations. Rithwik Projects Private Ltd belongs to TDP MP CM Ramesh, who is the executive director of the firm.
According to the officials, both the firms were lifting gravel and metal in the guise of using it for the Vamsadhara project, but instead were selling it to private parties. Speaking to TNIE, assistant geologist and district vigilance officer R Pratap Reddy said that Rithwik Project Pvt Ltd was fined `2.36 crore, while Sri Sai Laxmi Construction Company Ltd was slapped with a penalty of Rs 7. 29 crore. It is estimated that both the firms have illegally mined close to 60,000 cubic metres of gravel and over 8,000 cubic metres of metal. Reddy further said that both the firms were fined Rs 25,000 each for installing stone crushers without approvals.
On their part, the contracting agencies denied the allegations of illegal mining. The representatives of the firms said that they have paid seigniorage charges to the government for using the natural resources. “Since we are working for a government project, it is not required for us to take prior permission like private mining agencies. Moreover, government is paying bills to us only after deducting seigniorage charges,” a supervising official of Rithwik Project Private Ltd told TNIE. The official, who requested anonymity, further claimed that close to Rs 2 crore was deducted from the bills in the form of seigniorage charges since they took up work in last May.
“The district administration and irrigation officials have also permitted us to mine the hills at Pasikudi of Bhamini mandal for metal and gravel and also agreed for us to use the sand available near Katragada to complete the project at the earliest,” the representative explained. Similarly, Sri Sai Laxmi Construction Company officials said that they paid Rs 3.5 crore in the form of seigniorage charges. Water Resources divisional executive engineer Nageswara Rao too confirmed that the bills were being paid after deducting seigniorage charges.