SC notice to Centre, Odisha on plea to cancel 358 mining leases

Odisha Sun Times | April 17, 2019

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday sought response from the Centre, Odisha, Karnataka and the CBI on a PIL seeking cancellation of 358 iron ore mining leases which were allocated or their duration extended without any fresh evaluation and adopting the due auction process.

Also seeking response on the plea for quashing of Section 8A of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, the bench of Justice S.A. Bobde and Justice S. Abdul Nazeer appointed senior counsel P.S. Narasimha as amicus curiae to assist the court in the matter.

The PIL says that the Section 8A of the MMDR Act, 1957, which provides for grant of a mining lease for minerals other than coal, lignite and atomic minerals, is “illegal, arbitrary and unconstitutional”.

The Section 8A, inserted by the MMDR amendment Act, “is a clear violation of Art 14 and 21 of the Constitution” … (and) has created serious financial and other injuries to the general public at large…”, says the PIL.

Petitioner advocate Manohar Lal Sharma has contended that the extension of iron ore mining leases was in breach of the top court’s 2012 verdict, according to which mines could be leased only after valuation and auction and not free. The court had said this while answering the Presidential reference on the allocation of natural resources.

The five-judge constitution bench of the top court by its September 27, 2012 majority judgment had said that the auction could be a better option where the aim is maximisation of revenue, but then “every method other than auction of natural resources cannot be shut down”.

Besides seeking a court-monitored probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the allocation or extension of mining leases, the PIL petitioner has also sought directions for the recovery of the market value of the mined iron ore.

Petitioner Sharma has sought direction “to quash allotment/ extension/ continuation of more than 358 mines of iron ore and other minerals all over India, stating that the leases have been either granted or extended to the firms without any fresh evaluation and adopting the auction process”.

Alleging conspiracy, the PIL petitioner has sought direction to the investigating agency to register an FIR and probe the allocation of iron ore mines without following the due procedure, thereby causing huge loss to the exchequer.

Seeking the recovery of the losses caused to the public exchequer by the mining companies, the petitioner has said that the 358 mines leases, whose quashing he has sought, be put to auction.

Sharma has contended that the mining leases extended in 2014-2015 in return for alleged large donations has created a serious financial loss to the state exchequer — to the tune of Rs 4 lakh crore.

In all, 288 of these mining leases have been extended till 2020 and the remaining 70 till 2030.

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