: The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the Union government four weeks’ time to respond to a petition filed by advocate M.L. Sharma to quash the allotment, extension or continuation of leases for firms to operate 358 iron ore mines across the country.
A Bench led by Justice S.A. Bobde asked the Centre to reply to the PIL, which has sought a CBI probe into the leases.
The plea alleged that 288 mining leases were extended in exchange for “large donations,” resulting in a “serious financial loss” to the tune of ₹4 lakh crore to the public exchequer.
Mr. Sharma said the leases were granted or extended in over 358 mines without even adopting the auction process. He even asked the court to consider the issue of recovery of the market value of minerals mined illegally for years. The petitioner sought the quashing of Section 8-A of the MMDR (Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act.
Section 8-A provided that mining leases should be granted for a period of 50 years and, on expiry of the lease period, it should be put up for auction in accordance with the procedure specified in the Act. The section had become a major source of nepotism, the petition said.
“It is revealed that a large amount of political donation has been given by the corporate miner for the impugned provisions [of the MMDR Act] for extension of the mining leases free of cost from escaping the auction process,” the petition said. The Supreme Court had held that “no natural assets can be allotted/extended free of cost,” it noted.
The plea has arraigned as respondents the Ministries of Law, Mines and Minerals and the States of Odisha and Karnataka parties, along with the CBI.