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Jharkhand iron ore blocks: More companies under CBI scanner

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is likely to probe more companies for alleged irregularities related to the grant of iron ore blocks in Jharkhand. According to sources, the CBI is perusing the M B Shah Commission report on illegal iron ore and manganese ore mining in Jharkhand, which had recommended independent investigation into various cases.

“A few more investigations based on the report can be initiated soon,” said a CBI source. He, however, refused to disclose the names of the companies which could be probed.

The investigating agency had recently filed Preliminary Enquiry (PE) against Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) and JSW Steel for alleged irregularities in granting of clearance for using forest land in Saranda forests of Jharkhand for their respective projects. The CBI said the approval was given to these projects even after the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC), in the past, had expressed its reservation about the same. The CBI is likely to question some unknown Union environment ministry officials for their purported role in the matter.

Apart from asking for independent investigation into the mines of JSW Steel and JSPL, the Shah Commission report had recommended investigation against two more firms.

In its ‘Memorandum of Action Taken’ report, the Shah Commission had noted alleged violations of various environmental laws and a provision of mineral concession rules against Rungta Mines’ iron ore mine in Ghatkuri reserve of the Saranda forest. It suggested “handing over” of the matter to the CBI.

The Shah Commission had also asked for a “proper inquiry” against Electrosteel Casting, which had got environment clearance from the Union environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan after it was rejected twice by the FAC.

“It is observed that in the present case, the FAC has rejected the proposal twice. But the Hon’ble Minister of Environment and Forests has overruled it and approved the proposal for diversion of forest land. This is construed as violation of the said order of the Supreme Court. Action should be taken for the violation of Supreme Court order accordingly,” the Commission stated in the report.

The report further stated that the Director-General of Forests (DGF) of India had referred the case back to the FAC, a request which was overruled by Natarajan.

“The DGF has advised to refer back the matter to the FAC (note dated 28.12.2011) but the Hon’ble Minister of Environment and Forests has overruled the advice of the DGF and also the rejection recommendations (twice) of FAC and approved the proposal for diversion of 55.79 hectares of forest land,” said the report.

The PE against JSW Steel was registered on October 27 against an approval given by the environment and forest ministry to divert about 1,000 hectares of forest land to mine iron ore and manganese ore at the Ankua reserve forest, about six km from the high-priority Ankua-Ambia elephant corridor. This happened after the CBI had started a probe against JSPL’s Jeraldaburu iron ore block on October 24.

While JSW Steel said it was awaiting a formal communication, JSPL said it would co-operate with the investigative agencies and respond to their queries.

The Shah Commission had submitted its ‘first report on illegal mining of iron and manganese ores in the state of Jharkhand’ in October 2013. On the basis of this report, it had also released a Memorandum of Action Taken report.

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