Shah panel report targets 55 mines of Odisha firms

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New Delhi: Operations of top steel and mining companies, including Tata Steel, SAIL, Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining, JSPL and Sarda Mines, are likely to get affected if a recommendation by the Justice M B Shah Commission to ban mining along the Baitarni river in Odisha is accepted.

The high-powered panel, in its five-volume report on illegal mining in Odisha, has recommended revisiting the environment approvals granted to all 55 mines around the Baitarni river and its tributaries.

“Till then, mines may be kept closed,” it said, suggesting the modification of the environmental approvals of the mines by an expert panel.

The Commission said a definite decision should be taken on whether to allow large-scale mining leases to operate in the catchment area of the river.

About 40 firms and mining lease holders operate 55 mining leases that directly impact the Baitarni river.

Tata Steel and the Rungta Mines Group, with five mines each, are located in the area and would be the worst hit if the Commission’s recommendation is accepted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests.

Tata Steel, which procures 80 per cent of its iron ore requirements from Odisha, has eight mines (including manganese ore) in the state. Of these, five mines — Khandhbandh, Joda East, Joda West, Manmora and Malda — directly affect the Baitarni river.

Sourcing of iron ore for Tata Steel’s upcoming 6 million tonne mill in Kalinganagar, slated for commissioning in the next financial year, is also dependent on the Odisha mines.

SAIL’s Bolani iron ore mine, the Aditya Birla group’s Jilling Longalota and Kasia iron ore mines, Jindal Steel & Power’s Tantra Raikela Bandhal and Adhunik Metaliks’ Kulum may also face closure.

The Rungta Mines Group’s mines — Jajang, Kolmong, Oraghat, Katasai and Kalimati, Serajuddin & Co’s Balda block, Sarada Mines’ Thakurani-B block, R P Sao’s Guali, Odisha government-owned PSU Odisha Mining Corporation’s three mines and one each of BPMEL and OMDC are part of the list.

Comments could not be obtained from the companies mentioned.

The “unscientific, non-sustainable and explosive mining” of iron and manganese ores has a lasting, very high impact on the “very existence and life of the Baitarni river” and its tributaries, rivulets and nallas, the Commission said.

Indicting the Naveen Patnaik government for its failure to protect the Baitarni river, the Commission said, “No effective measures have been taken to mitigate all such problems arising out of heavy mining in the area since four decades in general and last decade in particular.”

“The widespread ecosystem (in and around the river) is restricted and changed into pieces,” it said.

The Commission indicted the Odisha government machinery for its failure to contain illegal mining and recommended the recovery of over Rs 59,203 crore “as early as possible” from the miners against “excess and unlawful” production of iron and manganese ores.

The 365-km long Baitarni, one of six major rivers in Odisha and considered holy, has its major catchment area in two districts — Keonjhar and Sundargarh, where most of the mining leases in Odisha are located. The river has 65 tributaries.

The Commission said that “on perusal of approved environmental clearances given by the Environment Ministry, it is observed that the information inputs of rivulets, water courses and rivers in and around mines are either incomplete or suppressed or false.”

Moreover, the networking of water channels and small nallas originating from hill tops and heavily forested slopes are now “completely shattered due to large mining pits, dumps, roads and other mining activities,” it said.

This has directly affected agriculture and minor forest produce in the local forest, which are the basic livelihood of tribes that have lived there for centuries, it added.

The Commission said, “River water is also polluted and it gets colour of the minerals due to discharge of effluent water. It is apparent that environmental laws are not implemented effectively and polluting mining companies are not punished at all.”

According to the Commission, during the rainy season, the river gets “highly polluted, muddy and turbid with unchecked flowing of salt generated from waste dump” out of 176 leases located in the two districts.

The high content of iron, manganese and other heavy metal generated from dumps of mines flowing through rivers are highly detrimental to aquatic fauna in the estuaries and the Bay of Bengal, the Commission said.

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