Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In 25 years there shall be no iron ore left

The mining issue has taken centre stage and it appears to be going out of control since both the ruling BJP in Karnataka and the opposition are at logger heads. While each one is engaged in mud slinging and accusing one another of being the bigger scam king, the Advocate General of Karnataka who has a lot to do on this issue says that the biggest issue is that Karnataka has iron ore for another 25 years only.

Advocate General of Karnataka, Ashok Harnahalli says that it is necessary to expose the mining scam, but the primary concern of the Government of India should be the iron ore which is fast getting over. In this interview with rediff.com, The Advocate General speaks about the mining issue and what needs to be done to tackle it.

Like the Governor, you too are a constitutional authority. Do you think Governor, H R Bharadwaj has exceeded his brief on the mining issue?
The Governor does not have a role in this since there is no break down of law and order. I would not call it exceeding of brief. He has just acted over enthusiastic.

What about the demand for a CBI probe into the matter? Are you in favour of it?
The opposition in Karnataka should realize that the union government cannot order a CBI probe suo motu. There needs to be a consent from the state government and I think that there is no need for a CBI probe. Isn’t the Lokayukta looking into the matter? Let us wait for his report and then see what needs to be done. The state is very serious about tackling this problem and I can vouch for that.

Why is everyone asking for a CBI probe then? Don’t they have faith in the Lokayukta?
I fail to understand this aspect. Earlier when he put in his papers the same opposition screamed that the state has lost a good man. All of a sudden they feel that the probe will not be fair. Doesn’t that amount to double standards?

The opposition has not doubted the intergrity of the Lokayukta. All they have said is that there is a jurisdictional issue since the mining menace spreads over two states.
The more important thing at the moment is to prevent ore getting out of the state illegally. The Lokayukta is well equipped to take care of that and he will do that do. It is too premature to seek a CBI probe at the moment. In case the report by the Lokayukta is adverse in nature or if the issue of boundaries does become a problem then let us consider a CBI probe. But at the moment it is too premature. Precaution is what needs to be taken at the moment.

If the state government is so very concerned then why doesn’t it ban export of iron ore?
Why is the state government being blamed for this? The state has no powers to ban the export of iron ore as the power is with the union government. The new amendment to the act seeks to ban export of ore for those who get fresh licences. For the existing mine owners a ban on export can only be imposed by the union government. You asked me why the state is not serious. You mean to say the Union government is? Why have they not banned it in Chattisgarh where mine owners are looting the natural resources. Are you even aware that the union government is sleeping over this matter over there which has given rise to the naxal movement?

There is an allegation that the government claims a meager royalty from existing mine owners. Why hasn’t the state brought about an amendment to this effect where it can earn more from legal mining?
Royalty is being paid on the sale price. The Indian Bureau of Mines has fixed the royalty at Rs 1,000 per tonne of iron ore when the actual price per tonne is Rs 3000. What is worse is that ore is being sold above the sale price at Rs 5000 in the market since there is so much demand. Now the state government does not have any control over the royalty since it is the job of the Indian Bureau of Mines to fix it and this body comes directly under the purview of the union government. You see what I mean when I say that the Union government is an equal party to this racket.

Why cant the High Court interfere in this matter since none of the government appear to be doing anything other than blaming each other?
Someone will need to move the court and prove before it that the problem is really big. If the court is convinced then it can act provided it feels that this is an extraordinary circumstance.

When we look at the statements that are being issued, one gets the idea that none are involved in mining in Karnataka. If no one has a stake then who is doing this?
Yes it is a strange situation. What needs to be taken into account is the issue of rising contract and transport contract. What has been noticed even by the Lokayukta is that people are obtaining mining licences but do not mine. They either hand it over to some other party due to force or sometimes out of their own will. This is a rising contract which is illegal and needs to be looked into. If this is not banned immediately then you will never be able to fix the real culprit. There is also another issue of transport contract which also needs to be banned. Basically the owner of the lease has to mine the area and also transport it and he should not be allowed to hand over the operation to anyone else in the form of a rising or transport contract.

It has been termed as black gold? Why is there such demand in the international market?
The very fact that there is such high demand is because there is very little of it. This is our natural resource and we cannot part with it. We should not sell away our wealth. I will not be able to give a nation wide figure to this, but as per our records, Karnataka has iron ore left for another 25 years only. After that we will have no option but to beg in the international market.

What is the government doing about the Belgaum issue?

I don’t see any issue at all. The Mahajan Commission was very clear that it is a part of Karnataka. We have been given eight weeks time by the Supreme Court to file our reply and we are working on it.

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