Bhubaneswar: The opposition BJP and ruling BJD on Wednesday entered into a war of words over the Odisha government’s alleged failure to dispose iron ore worth an estimated Rs 10,000 crore.
At a press conference here, Opposition Chief Whip Mohan Majhi sought the urgent intervention of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the Centre to enable the Odisha government to take over and liquidate the extracted and non-evacuated minerals for generating revenue to the state exchequer.
In letters to the Chief Minister, Union Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi and Union Petroleum and Natural Gas and Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, BJP leader Majhi said that prior to the the COVID pandemic outbreak, 17 mining leases with a combined capacity of approximately 58-60 million metric tonne were auctioned during March 2020 in Odisha.
The reconciled stock/declared mineral value available in these 17 mines on April 1, 2020, was approximately 39 million MT of which 16.5 million MT, worth Rs 10,000 crore, was still available on November 1, 2020. But it could not be lifted within the prescribed seven-month period in consonance with sections 12(GG) and 12 (HH) of the MMDR Act. Of the 16.5 MT, around 8.5 MT is available in the Nuagaon iron one block in Keonjhar district.
Majhi further said the lessees of the said mines had approached the Orissa High Court for an extension. However, the court passed an order stating that the Principal Secretary, Steel & Mines, would examine the issue and take a decision, which shall be binding on all parties.
Subsequently, the Principal Secretary, Steel & Mines, denied an extension to the lessees on the ground that non-removal of minerals by other leaseholders is not attributable to the pandemic and held that going by section 12 (HH) of MMDR Act, the minerals (16.55 MT) which were not lifted by the old lessees by November 1, 2020, is deemed to be the property of the state government and can be sold or disposed of in any manner as the state government may deem fit.
“However, the state government has not taken any action to sell/dispose of the ore leading to a shortage of iron ore in the market and resultant hike in ore prices. The inaction of the state government has deprived both the state and the central government of substantial revenue to be earned through levies and taxes to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore which can provide an important fiscal stimulus in lines of the COVIdD-19 pandemic,” the BJP MLA pointed out.
Pointing out that the Odisha government has complete rights over these minerals and a democratic responsibility for the proper utilization of the extracted minerals as they belong to the people of the state, Majhi said once these minerals are available in the market, it will lead to a fall in the prices of iron ore and subsequently a reduction in raw material cost for the steel industry.
“This will act as a catalyst for cost reduction in key sectors such as infrastructure. Besides, it will not only benefit the transport sector and also generate employment and boost the economic growth of Odisha while accelerating the Atmanirbhar Bharat vision,” he added.
Terming the allegation of the BJP MLA as ‘baseless and politically motivated’, BJD spokesperson Lenin Mohanty said Odisha is the only state in the country where the auction of mines has been done in a transparent manner and for which the state has received accolades from the Centre and various quarters.
“It seems that Majhi has given such baseless statements as he has not properly gone through the provisions of the mining rules. If he doubts that there is any irregularity, he can request the Centre to order an investigation. The BJD government has nothing to hide anything,” Mohanty maintained.
BJP’s Golak Mohapatra joined issue, saying Mohanty should crosscheck from the Principal Secretary, Steel & Mines, before making any statement that betrays his lack of understanding.