Saturday, July 3, 2010

Free run for illegal mining, fake permits, fraudulent exports

 illegal mining

Belekeri, a minor port with scenic unexplored beaches, near Ankola of Uttara Kannada district, stands defamed after Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, acting on people’s complaints, deputed forest department sleuths who unearthed a major iron ore export scam.

Billed as a ‘good port’ since the British Raj, the non-descript port apparently proved a safe haven for the mining mafia from as far away as Bellary and Hospet, until a shocking expose of corruption at high places was made in January this year. The bust revealed that lakhs of tonnes of superior quality iron ore, graded 64 Fe and valued highly on the export market, was illegally extracted by miners in Bellary and Hospet, the home ground of Mines and Geology Minister G Janardhan Reddy, transported overland by using fake passes and permits of the Mines and Forest departments, and exported out of Belekeri and Karwar ports under the watchful eyes of the port authorities.

The rip off finale came in June when five lakh metric tonnes of iron ore that was being illegally transported was seized by forest officials and kept under the safe custody of the Belekeri port authorities. Belekeri port conservator Mahesh Biliya immediately wrote to the forest department pleading his inability to safeguard the seized ore, which had been lying right there before the seizure. The mining and export companies, to whom the ore belonged, moved court praying for release of the consignment and help them meet export commitments. The court obliged with the rider that the ore could be released subject to verification of documents and submission of indemnity bonds by the litigant companies. The forest department refused to release the ore as it found the documents to be fake. Within days, the five lakh metric tonnes bounty went missing, forcing the forest department to file a complaint with the Ankola police.

The state government, in a vain bid to lock the stables after the horses had bolted, transferred some low-level port and forest officers and ordered suspension of the Karwar deputy conservator of forests. The action was like the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back and Lokayukta Santosh Hegde rushed his resignation to the Governor (which he has since withdrawn).

As the mining season closed because of the monsoon, the hectic activity at the otherwise tranquil Belekeri and Karwar ports have come to a standstaill. But the heat and dust generated by the mining controversy is still engaging an overtly repentant government, the national media, and public debates and sentiments.

Now, a month after the iron ore went missing, the ports department is pointing an accusing finger at two private companies - Shree Mallikarjun Shipping Pvt Ltd (SMSPL) and Adani Enterprises - and has even cancelled their export licences. The reason: the companies spirited away (exported) the seized ore despite the department’s strict bar. But Justice Hegde insists that in all 11 companies, involved in the illegal transportation of ore, are liable.

SMSPL belongs to Satish Sail, a Congress party sympathiser, who contested the Assembly by-election from Karwar in 2008 on a Congress ticket, while the Adanis are Ahmedabad-based with operations across several countries.

No comments:

Post a Comment