HOW DO you defeat attempts to punish corruption? For the Union Ministry of Mines the answer is simple: set up a commission and then sabotage it.

TEHELKA has documents to prove that top officials in the mining ministry, which set up one such commission to investigate illegal mining, are working behind the scenes to dilute cases against politicians, industrialists and bureaucrats who are likely to be indicted in the commission’s report.

The matter pertains to the excessive mining of iron ore in Odisha, which the state government has already acknowledged as being illegal in several ways. However, the mining ministry has been trying its best to make the unlawful lawful by converting cases of illegality into irregularity.

The attempts at cover-up have speeded up as the former Supreme Court judge Justice MB Shah, tasked with probing illegal iron ore and manganese mining across the country in 2010, is expected to submit a voluminous report by the end of January.

Documents in possession of TEHELKA show that none other than the then mining secretary, Vishwapati Trivedi, was involved in the cover-up of the scam which, going by even the conservative estimates of Odisha government, caused a loss of 70,000 crore worth of natural resources. Calculated by market rates, the scam might rise to a staggering 3 lakh crores.

Seeds of the scam were sown in the beginning of the last decade when China started importing iron ore in huge quantities to build necessary infrastructure for the Beijing Olympics. As prices of iron ore skyrocketed, mining companies across the nation scrambled to exploit the opportunity.

According to the mining laws, no mineral can be extracted from ground without the prior permission of government. However, taking advantage of a loophole, mining companies in Odisha manipulated the law in connivance with bureaucrats and politicians, and started exporting an unprecedented quantity of iron ore. The companies include those associated with the Tata and the Birla groups.

The scam came to light after the 2009 state Assembly elections, when Rabi Das, the editor of a local Odia newspaper, started investigating into the campaign expenditure of two major political parties following the poll. The money was traced back to illegal mining. This prompted Das to file a case in the Supreme Court, forcing the state government to stop all major mining activities in the state.

When similar such cases were reported from Bellary and Goa, the Union mining ministry asked Justice MB Shah to inquire into the illegal mining of iron ore and manganese across the nation. In the following months, the ministry initiated the coverup by going to the extraordinary length of amending the rules and interpreting the laws to benefit the case of the criminals. Read more