New Delhi, Oct 12: After demanding an extension in reaction to the Ministry of Mines decision to pull the plug from the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry, a delegation from Chhattisgarh, which was denied a meeting with the Ministry’s Director in the national capital on Friday, alleged the decision was aiding a cover up of massive theft of public resources.
Hitting out at the UPA for its decision to end the Commissions enquiry before a holistic survey was completed, the delegation said: “The Ministry’s decision to quietly pull the plug from the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry is a political maneuver to cover up the massive theft of public resources and egregious damage to the environment which has been facilitated by the UPA Central and BJP state governments.”
Constituted in 2010 to mitigate and minimize the corruption in the mining industry, the Justice M.B. Shah Commission of Inquiry was looking into allegations of illegal contracting, flouting of royalty payments and encroachment on public lands by large and small scale iron ore and manganese ore mining operations across the country.
The delegation, which is vehemently pressing for an extension of the deadline of the Enquiry, said that since the allotted duration for investigation is coming to a close on Oct er 16, they came to Delhi to put pressure on the Centre.
“We were to again press for an extension in the duration of the Justice MB Shah Commission of Inquiry. Yet, instead of having our concerns addressed, we were informed that the Secretary was on leave, and were refused entry to the Ministry despite us having requested an appointment with the Director in advance,” the delegation said in its press release.
“Finally, after we insisted that we be allowed entry, the Joint Secretary to the Ministry, Mr. Naresh Kumar, met with only three members of our delegation,” it added.
In this meeting, Kumar defended the UPA-led Government’s stance on the matter and said “issues of forest, agricultural degradation are not within the Ministry’s purview”, despite the Commission’s TOR explicitly stating that its purpose is to inquire into illegal acts of mining “in terms of destruction of forest wealth, damage to the environment, prejudice to livelihood and other rights of tribal people, forest dwellers and other persons in the mined areas.”
While in the national capital, the Chhattisgarh delegation members held a press conference at the Women’s Press Corps where Advocate Prashant Bhushan criticised the Ministry, what he called ‘ its premature termination of the Commission’, and said that he was willing to go to the apex court of law to ensure justice in the case.
“There are many Commissions which have been pending in this country for so long, which have not done anything. But when the government forms a Commission that is genuinely concerned with matters of the environment and adivasi livelihood, it prevent [the Commission] from operating,” Bhushan said.
” I am prepared to go to The Supreme Court on this matter,” he added.
Earlier, Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan leader Samantha Agarwal claimed that she had made numerous inquiries between July and September, 2013 to the Commission’s Primary Investigator, Dr. U.V. Singh, who had assured that the commission would complete the investigation on-time.
Yet, on Oct er 1, Dr. Singh informed Agarwal that although the Commission requested an extension to complete the investigation, the Ministry of Mines categorically denied its request, thus the MB Shah Commission of Inquiry would no longer be coming to Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh or Maharashtra.
In reaction, on Oct er 2, members of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan and other civil society groups submitted a letter to the Ministry of Mines stating a demand that the duration of the Commission be extended. They also requested that the Ministry provides an answer as to why the Commission was terminated prior to visiting the Chhattisgarh.
Additionally, the submitted letter outlined the major environmental violations committed by the major iron ore mining companies in the state, and specifically named NMDC, SAIL, Godawari Ispat Ltd. and Jayaswal Neco Pvt Ltd.
It is alleged that the Ministry of Mines till date has not responded to the letter. Moreover, when members of the delegation contacted the Secretary to Ministry of Mines, RH Khwaja, he refused to comment on the matter.
Adding to the growing demand of extension of the deadline of the Commission, a delegation of civil society groups from across Gujarat including the Center for Social Justice also visited the Justice MB Shah Commission’s Office in Ahmedabad on Oct er 11.
At the meeting with the Gujarat delegation, Dr. UV Singh revealed that the Ministry was putting tremendous pressure on the Commission to wrap up the investigation and submit its final report by Oct er 14th.
“Justice Shah is very angry with the way the Ministry is behaving. It has denied an extension despite knowing that there are three states which we haven’t yet covered and that our reports would be incomplete [if the Commission were to terminate now],” Dr. Singh said.
The Gujarat delegation had also submitted a written memorandum to the Commission with the request that they ask for a detailed reasoning for the termination in writing. Their request was turned down by Dr. U.V. Singh.
The Chhattisgarh delegation consisted of seven people from Chhattisgarh including Narayan Markam (President of Gond Community), Pradip Komra (Secretary of Gondwana Samanvay Samiti), Bhupendra Darro (Akhil Bhartiya Gondwana Gond Mahasabha), Keshav Sori (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), Samantha Agarwal (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan), and two traditional tribal leaders, Mehturam Darro and Mansay Darro, representing 168 villages total, who came to Delhi to break the Ministry of Mines’ silence on the matter. (ANI)