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Karnataka government admits to having goofed up in sale of iron ore

Mining News - Published on Fri, 19 Jan 2018

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Bangalore Mirror reported that trying to be ‘smart’ in its actions before the Supreme Court, the state government found itself in an embarrassing situation on January 17th 2018. Covering up its gaffe pertaining to mining, the state government has not only decided to initiate action against erring officials, but also stepped up vigilance around mining areas so that not a single load of iron ore is transported illegally. However, the officials’ botch-up has provided the Opposition parties enough ammunition to pounce on the government, especially ahead of the polls.

While banning mining activities across Karnataka, the Supreme Court had allowed only two government companies NMDC and MML to carry out mining activities in the state.

Further, the apex court had also revised target for production of iron ore by these companies. But, the Karnataka mining firms, especially in Ballari, failed to meet the target set by the SC owing to limited technical infrastructure.

However, covering up its inefficiency, the state government submitted inflated figures on mining production to Indian Bureau of Minies (IBM). Later realising its mistake during the annual audit, the officials chose to underreport the production in the subsequent years to match the SC target and thereby attempt to correct the past mistake. Even though the annual figures have more or less remained the same, the huge mismatch of production on monthly basis alarmed the government, prompting Mining Minister Vinay Kulkarni to order an inquiry into the entire episode.

Acknowledging the goof-up, Mr Kulkarni said that “MML was extracting about 10 lakh metric tonne of iron ore at Subbarayanahalli and Thimmappanagudi village in Ballari district. However after the SC’s revised target, the MML was supposed to extract 40 lakh MT of ore annually which was four times higher than its capacity. The company, contrary to the target, could only produce only 16 lakh MT in the ensuing years. But officials, unwilling to reveal their incapability of mining such huge quantity ore, initially chose to submit inflated figures about production to IBM and later adjusted this with the actual production in the subsequent years.”

During the annual audit as soon as the inflated figures were noticed by then MML MD Hemalatha, the mining minister was quick to order an inquiry into the mismatch between mined ore and processed ore. Sensing a whiff of fresh mining scam, JD-S state president HD Kumaraswamy alleged last week that state government had illegally lifted INR 5,450 crore worth iron ore and sold through MML and demanded CM Siddaramaiah an inquiry into the episode.

Mr Kulkarni said that “I fully agree with HDK that there was a mismatch between what had been mined and what had been processed. Even though the government records have actual details of what had been produced and sold, the ‘katchha book’ maintained at the mining site had inflated figures. This mismatch of figures triggered all confusion.”

A senior MML official told BM that a female officer, who was posted at the mining site quite blindly recorded in the Katchha book that trucks carried 20 tonne per trip. “Considering the load-bearing capacity of tippers, each vehicle can carry only 14 to 15 tonne of ore. But the official chose to enter it as 20 tonne, triggering the issue. As the state was supposed to levy penalty on contractors for failing to lift ore as per target, officials wanted to avoid the fine and presented inflated figures. But as soon as the minister took over and held a review of the department, the mismatch was noticed and he immediate ordered for the enquiry,” the official said.

After ordering a detailed inquiry, the minister directed officials to increase vigilance all around the mining area. “We have set up CCTVs at the mining site besides installing a weighing bridge.We will not spare those who were responsible for this mismatch,” he said.

Countering the BJP and JD-S in the ensuing polls, the Congress-led state government has a new weapon in its hand Illegal mining. Following the CBI’s decision to return the illegal mining cases back to the Karnataka government, the state cabinet on Wednesday decided to start fresh inquiry into the cases through Special Investigation Team (SIT) constituted by the state government.

The CBI, which was probing into the illegal export of iron ore from 9 ports of Karnataka, Goa, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had recently returned the cases to the state government citing lack of evidence and suggested that if it wishes it can continue with the investigation. The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in the state that exposed the illegal mining scam refused to let down the issue and the state cabinet has now entrusted the SIT to probe into these cases. “ TB Jayachandra, Law minister said that the state government-constituted SIT would take up investigations into these cases. “Of the 9 ports, the CBI had returned the cases pertaining to ports at Goa and Karnataka. CBI sleuths were never given permission to inquire at Chennai Port and enquiry in Andhra Pradesh ports are still going on by the CBI,” the minister said. The government’s move will cast shadow on prominent BJP and JDS leaders as fresh FIRs will be registered against them and Congress could go all out against these leaders during the polls.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Fri, 19 Jan 2018
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