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Illegal mining: Why did the dogs not bark?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

On December 10, 2012, the minister of mines, Dinsha Patel, submitted his views on illegal mining to the Rajya Sabha. This was in response to an unstarred question (no.1972). The reply provided details of what the government had been doing to stop the menace of illegal mining. Towards the end of his reply he also tabled an annexure giving out details of the incidences of illegal mining reported in various states.

Curiously, nobody remarked on two details that had been tabled. One: no details of illegal mining in North-Eastern States were available. This was strange because preliminary investigations of the CBI into the Saradha chit fund scam showed that at least Rs1,000 crore had been invested in illegal mining in the NorthEast. In fact photographic evidence put up by photographers at http://www.businessinsider.com/photos-indias-illegal-coal-mines-2012-10?op=1 provided damning evidence of the exploitative conditions under which illegal mining in the North-East flourished. They exploited people, and they exploited the government as well. The biggest beneficiaries were investors like the Saradha and its powerful supporters.

Two: everyone had chosen to remain silent about Maharashtra. After all, as the tabled data showed, for three consecutive years Maharashtra had the highest number of incidences of illegal mining. The state had registered 40,642 cases in 2011-2012 of a total of 94,599 cases documented by all the states (except the North-East).

In other words, Maharashtra accounted for almost 43% of all illegal mining cases in India (http://www.dnaindia.com/money/report-supreme-court-continues-to-search-for-ways-to-deal-with-illegal-mining-will-it-take-the-right-one-1985027). These figures were reiterated by the government in its submission before the Lok Sabha on August 23, 2013, in response to another unstarred question (no. 2391). And yet, nobody wanted to rock the biggest promoter of illegal mining.

Further, in his submission before the Rajya Sabha, the minister declared that "The Central Government has set up Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry (COI) to inquire into large-scale illegal mining of iron ore and manganese ore in the country. The tenure of the COI has been extended till July 16, 2013 by the Government. COI has so far visited Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Odisha."

"Nobody even cared to ask why Justice MB Shah had chosen to ignore Maharashtra, or the North-Eastern states. Likewise, nobody even cared to remark that except for Andhra Pradesh, all the other states that Justice Shah had visited were run by opposition governments and that investigations into Andhra Pradesh began only when Jagan Reddy, son of the former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, YSR Reddy, chose to build his political fortunes outside of the Congress.

One would have expected the opposition to howl down such moves with shouts of "Unfair" and "Shame". Even the Left parties kept silent. Nobody approached the Supreme Court to question the manner in which the investigative process was being used as a weapon of oppression and not as one impartially seeking to find out the truth.

So why did the opposition parties keep quiet, and accept the humiliation of selective investigation? And why is it that even the party that claims to champion truth and honesty — the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) — has chosen to keep silent about illegal mining? Can it explain why it chose to stay silent on the Coalgate scam?

There are times, when silence speaks louder than words. The implications are clear — every party has benefitted from the ill-gotten gains from mining. Even the Supreme Court appears to have been misled into making selective pronouncements against some governments. The bigger picture has still not been examined. And the rich pickings from illegal mining are likely to continue for a lot more time to come.

The author is consulting editor with dna


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