The country’s mining scandals have claimed one chief minister already. On 5 September, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested G Janardhan Reddy, former Karnataka minister, for the Obulapuram Mining Company’s role in illegal mining as documented by the Karnataka Lokayukta in July.
Since the CBI is said to be probing the roles played by as many as 65 mining companies, the logical question is: who will be the next big fish to be caught in the net?
The Goa Chief Minister, Digambar Kamat, bids fair to be the next target of inquiry. Official data and documents accessed by Firstpost on show that he either aided or abetted or looked the other way when illegal mining activities running into over Rs 800 crore were taking place. And this figure refers to only illegal mining over the last four years.
For example, Goa government records show that there are 90 active iron ore mines in the state. But 48 of them were shown to be extracting more than what their environmental clearances (EC) allowed them. In other words, more than half the mines are breaking the law – and Kamat has done little to rein them in.
Anil Agarwal’s Vedanta Group – a mining and metals conglomerate that has courted controversy wherever it pitches its tent – is prominent in this law-breaking. Vedanta owns two major Goan mining companies – Sesa Goa and Dempo — which control 30 percent of the Goan mines. Kamat’s daughter is married into the Dempo family that used to control the company before it was acquired by Agarwal in 2009. Eighteen of the 48 excess mining cases involve Sesa Goa and VS Dempo.
Firstpost mailed a questionnaire to Vedanta, but got no response to it.
Asked why he allowed illegal mining that went against EC recommendations, Digambar Kamat deflected the blame. He told Firstpost: “The EC limit is given by Ministry of Environment and Forests. Thus the Implementation of the EC clearance is the responsibility of the Ministry office located in Bangalore and also by the Pollution Control Board. Anyway, we are in the process of sending them notices.’’
Kamat, who has been minister for mines for 12 years, has allowed his own ministers and close aides and partymen to become ‘raising contractors’ and run iron ore mining businesses. He has also helped revive mining leases that date back to the era when Goa was a Portuguese colony, ignoring the new mining laws that were legislated later.
That the chief minister of a state which derives a lot of its income from tourism, and where illegal drugs and the flesh trade flourish, should consider mining to be the most important ministry itself tells a story. Most CMs in the country retain the home ministry or critical ones like finance or industry, but not Kamat.
Says Goa’s former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar: “Kamat has been mines minister for years now. Everything else has changed, but his one portfolio hasn’t changed — that is mines. I could understand it if he was the minister only for only two-three years. But for 12 years, he has been mines minister. Kamat can’t absolve himself of every illegality and criminal conspiracy in the mining department.”
A whiff of Goan mining scandal was available when former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hedge gave his report on illegal mining in Bellary. He hinted that Karnataka ores were being shipped to Goa for blending with the local ore – which have a low ferrous content.
The numbers speak for themselves. Goa has barely 5 percent of the country’s iron ore reserves, but it exports 40 percent of the country’s total. The Chinese have been willing to buy anything from the Goans.
Kamat took a fancy to the mining ministry as far back as 1998, when he was a BJP MLA. In 2003-2004, when China was preparing for the Olympics, Kamat as mines minister presided over an export boom to China. Earlier, Goan ore was largely shipped to Japan, South Korea, the UAE, Pakistan, Netherlands, Romania and Italy. Within a year of Kamat’s entry, China became the major importer of low-grade Goan iron ore.
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