Illegal mining by Trimex Group suspended as SC takes cognizance

At long last, the mining operations by Trimex Sands Private Limited or East West Mineral Sands Private Limited have been suspended “for illegal mining in violation of lease deed conditions”. With this, Trimex Sands Private Limited or the East West Mineral Sands Private Limited, the Andhra Pradesh government, the Department of Atomic Energy and the Union Ministry of Mines have met their nemesis, writes CHARANJIT AHUJA

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Tehelka had exposed the large-scale illegal mining and its exports going on for over a decade and collusion by various departments of the Centre and the Andhra Pradesh government — from the Department of Atomic Energy to the Union Ministry of Mines as well as various departments of the State. And finally, the mining lease for beach sand minerals over a huge 7.20 sq kms by Trimex has been suspended in Vastavalasa and Thonangi villages, Gara Mandal, Srikakulum district in Andhra Pradesh.

Our first investigative story “The Black Truth: Larger than Coal Block scam” (Tehelka, May 15, 2018) exposed the unholy nexus between mining mafias and government departments, while “Skeletons in Trimex cupboard” (Tehelka, June 15, 2018) revealed how money bags were exchanged and “Tehelka investigations into illegal mining: Supreme Court issues notice in PIL” (Tehelka July 15, 2018) wrote that the Apex Court had taken cognizance of the serious allegations made in a PIL filed by Dr EAS Sarma and issued notices on July 9, 2018, to the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Mines and Department of Atomic Energy, which directly comes under Prime Minister’s Office. Sarma had also made a complaint to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and the Atomic Minerals Directorate (AMD) come under the Union Ministry of Mines and the Department of Atomic Energy are directly under the purview of the Prime Minister.

Ministry wakes up

Unfortunately, it was only after notices were issued by the Supreme Court on 09.07.2018 that officials of Ministry of Mines who were sitting on the Action Take Report of State Government of Andhra Pradesh for over three months, once again wrote to the State Government on 25.07.2018, requesting the same action taken report for the third time since 20.04.2018. Only officials of Ministry of Mines can answer as to why the report which was already with them for more than 90 days at the time, was once again requested.

On August 21, 2018, Dr Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of Mines, Shastri Bhawan, New Delhi, subsequent to receiving the Action Taken Report of the State Government for the third time on 03.08.2018, wrote a most urgent letter (No. 16/12/2013.M.IV) to B Sridhar, secretary and Director (Mines), Government of Andhra Pradesh, regarding “illegal mining of heavy mineral beach sand in Srikakulum, Andhra Pradesh, by M/S Trimex Sands Private Limited”. He suggested that in view of the gravity of the matter, “it is requested to take concrete action and a compliance report in the matter be provided to the ministry”.

On September 12, 2018, a double bench of Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta of the Supreme Court of India in Writ Petition Civil No 500/2018 directed that “Our attention has been drawn to communication dated 21.08.2018 issued by the Ministry of Mines in the Government of India. In para 4(iv), it is stated by the Government of India that since the lessee (M/s Trimex Group) has committed illegal mining over unauthorized land in violation of lease deed conditions, the State Government (Government of Andhra Pradesh) is directed to suspend all mining operations in the entire mining lease of the lessee as per the provisions of the MMDR Act and Rules framed thereunder”. “In response to a query put by us, it is stated by learned standing counsel for the State of Andhra Pradesh that a decision in this regard has not been taken but will certainly be taken within two days from today”.

State Govt suspends mining

The Government of Andhra Pradesh vide Memo No. INC04-11023(39)/1/2018 on 17.09.2018 under signature of B.Sreedhar, IAS, Secretary to Government issued a letter to M/S East West Mineral Sands Private Limited C/O M/S Trimex Sands (P) Ltd with a copy to
Director of Mines and Geology, Andhra Pradesh, Vijayawada suspended the mining operations in mining lease for beach sand minerals over an extend of 7.20 sq.kms in Vastavalasa and Thonangi villages, Gara Mandal, Srikakulum district for illegal mining in violation of lease deed conditions-orders-issued. The memo observed that “as part of the mining lease included disputed land, the State Government should not have signed the lease deed and allowed mining operations”.

The order further said that “since the lessee has committed illegal mining over unauthorised land in violation of lease deed conditions, the State Government is directed to suspend
all mining operations in the entire Mining Lease of the lessee as per provision of the MMD&R Act and Rules framed thereunder”.

Apex Court seeks DAE affidavit

On 18.09.2018, Justice Madan B.Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta ordered, “Learned counsel for the State of Andhra Pradesh has placed on record an order dated 17th September, 2018 suspending mining operations by Respondent No.5. The Order is taken on record. List the matter on 27th September, 2018 by which date the Department of Atomic Energy will ensure that its affidavit is filed”.

Beach sands of the Srikakulum in Andhra Pradesh comprise a mixture of rare atomic minerals such as limonite, rutile, leucoxene, zircon and monazite. Of these, monazite, which is also prescribed mineral and can be processed to yield thorium, a nuclear fuel and it is neither allowed to be exported nor sold by private companies but was allegedly being sold and exported. A Public Accounts Committee had also found the Trimex Group was not only indulging in illegal mining but illegal export of Monazite. Names of Rajendra Prasad Koneru, an Andhra politician and his two sons — Madhu Koneru and Pradeep Koneru — and Trimex Sands (P) Limited, appeared as alleged accused in case of illegal mining and export of atomic minerals.

The illegal acts, according to the investigation reports, came to light when a detailed report of another enquiry conducted by the officials of Indian Bureau of Mines, Forest, Revenue and Director and Mines and Geology, Hyderabad on 06.03.2013, Director, Mines and Geology submitted to Principal Secretary to Government (Industries & Commerce), highlighted that “Trimex Industries had carried out illegal mining operations in part of the area of 387.72 acres in their mining lease”. The Director Mines and Geology, Government of Andhra Pradesh had also suggested action on his report-dated 20.09.2013. The investigations had found that “Trimex Industries had conducted mining over 304.40 acres of disputed land and illegally excavated minerals worth `1,295.63 crores.” The report said that “as much as 9750 MT of Monazite was mined and stored by Trimex Industries in pits under their processing plant”.

The report of AR Anuradha, Director General (Vigilance & Enforcement), states, “The officials of the Mines and Geology Department have allowed mining operations and issued transit permits for transportation of Beach Sand minerals from the disputed area of 387.72 acres against stipulated conditions. The officials failed to curb mining operations in Vatsalvalasa village Gara Mandal of Srikakulam district.”

The DG recommended to the Principal Secretary, Revenue Department to “recover `1,295.63 crores as no clearance was given by the Revenue Department for mining in disputed land. Enquiry needs to be initiated against the Tehsildars, Gara Mandal, Srikakulam district who allowed mining operations in disputed areas of un-surveyed land of Vatsavalasa village, Gara Mandal”.

The Vigilance and Enforcement Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, vide its another report dated 11.03.2016 recommended  “recovery of `1,295.63 crores from Trimex Group for illegally mining and selling 17,58,112 MTs of Beach Sand Minerals including Monazite”. The Department also recommended action against various state government officials of revenue department for permitting illegal mining operations by Trimex Industries”.

It was the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India that took cognizance of the serious allegations made in the PIL filed by Dr EAS Sarma and issued notices to various Union of India ministries including Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Mines and Department of Atomic Energy, which directly comes under Prime Minister’s office.

The bench headed by Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta after hearing Prashant Bhushan noted senior counsel appearing for the petitioner, made strong observations on the illegal mining activities of Trimex Group Companies that have been allowed to go unhindered by both Central and State Government authorities and have asked them to submit their replies within 2 weeks.

Dr EAS Sarma, a former Secretary, Govt of India, has been taking this cause with various authorities for a number of years. However, when the authorities took no action, he had no option but to approach the apex court with a PIL seeking cancellation of mines operated by Trimex Group of Companies along with a Court monitored investigation into the collusion of State and Central Government officials.

It is unfortunate that despite a lapse of over two and a half years since the report of DG, Vigilance, Government of Andhra Pradesh, no effort whatsoever has been made by the State Government to recover the sum of 1,295 crores that was illegally mined by Trimex Group. In fact by now the recoverable sum would amount to more than double the aforesaid amount. At such high stakes, it is only the Supreme Court that can prompt any action against such illegal miners and corrupt officials.

All the Trimex’s Men

It appears from the scrutiny of official documents that Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary & CVO, Ministry of Mines and some other officers in Ministry of Mines have allegedly been going out of their way to help Trimex Group, writes charanjit ahuja

 

The events narrated hereunder would also substantiate the said facts of blatant favoritism extended by these officers to Trimex Group.

(i) On 08.01.2018, the then Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines, Bipul Pathak had issued a letter to Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh with the following observations/directions:

“From the documents submitted by the petitioners in his complaint, it has been observed that the formal investigation by the Vigilance Deptt. Of Andhra Pradesh Government has been conducted in the matter. Investigation report, inter-alia, stated that illegal mining was taken place and also recommended for recovery of `1295.63 crore from the East West Minerals Pvt. Ltd. Further, it is also stated by the petitioner that mining operation is still going on despite suspension by the State vide order dated 29.03.2016. State Govt. should submit report on the issue.

3. Pertinent to mention that this act of illegal mining could fall under section 21(5) of MMDR Act. State Government Mining Department should examine and take action urgently on this issue and submit Action Taken Report.”

(ii) It is pertinent to note that the portfolio of the said Joint Secretary, Bipul Pathak who was handling the relevant Mines-IV Section under Ministry of Mines, was immediately and abruptly changed by the then Secretary (Mines) Arun Kumar (since superannuated on 31.03.2018) within 3 days of his preferring the aforesaid letter to the State Government and once again the issue pertaining to the illegal mining activities of Trimex was put in a cold storage by the officials of Ministry of Mines.

(iii) Thereafter, on 27.02.2018, a reminder letter was sent by Director, Ministry of Mines to State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh and subsequently a D.O. letter was issued by Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines to Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh on 16.04.2018 asking for Action Taken Report.

(iv) In response to letter dated 27.02.2018, Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh sent Action Taken Report to Director, Ministry of Mines vide letter No. 377/M.III(2)/2018 on 20.04.2018.

(v) However, on receipt of D.O. letter dated 16.04.2018, Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh again sent the Action Taken Report on 30.04.2018 vide his D.O. letter No. 377/M.III(2)/2018 addressed to Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines.

(vi) It is in this regard, a copy of printout of file movement in Ministry of Mines of the aforesaid two letters dated 20.04.2018 and 30.04.2018 shows that the letter dated 20.04.2018 had been duly received in Ministry of Mines on 04.05.2018 by Brahm Prakash, R&I Section, Ministry of Mines who on the very same day sent it to Mr.Adhir Kumar Mallik, Under Secretary, Ministry of Mines. Thereafter, Adhir Kumar Mallik forwarded it to Satish Mohan Kapur, Mines IV on 04.05.2018 itself who in turn sent the same to Subodh Kumar, Mines IV on 07.05.2018 and since then it is pending with Subodh Kumar, Mines IV Section only for the last 4 months.

(vii) The D.O. letter dated 30.04.2018 sent by Secretary, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh to Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines must have been seen by Niranjan Kumar Singh but its fate is not known. It is not known whether it was dumped or destroyed or kept pending by him at his level. This is an extremely serious issue and must be looked into.

(viii) Since the contents of said Action Taken Report are highly damaging for Trimex Group and as it could have harmed them irreparably, the officials of Ministry of Mines for reasons best known to them did not act on the Action Taken Report dated 20.04.2018 despite the fact it had been taken on record and kept it pending. It is obvious that these officials acted at the behest of Trimex Group and out of their vested interests.

(ix) On 09.07.2018, notices were issued in the aforesaid petition viz. Writ Petition (C) 500 of 2018 by Hon’ble Supreme Court to Ministry of Mines which were duly served upon them 13.07.2018.

(x) Perturbed with the above unexpected development and apprehending being caught in their act of dereliction of duty and favouritism towards Trimex group, another letter was issued by Ms Veena Kumari Dermal, Director, Ministry of Mines, Govt. of India to Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh on 25.07.2018 again asking for Action Taken Report despite receiving it twice before on 20.04.2018 and 30.04.2018.

(xi) In reply to said letter dated 25.07.2018, once again a copy of Action Taken Report was sent by Secretary, Govt. of Andhra Pradesh to Ms Veena Kumari Dermal, Director, Ministry of Mines on 03.08.2018 for the third time. In the very first para of his letter dated 03.08.2018, Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh specifically referred to the fact of sending the Action Taken Report earlier on two occasions i.e. 20.04.2018 and 30.04.2018 and copies of these two letters were also annexed. Relevant extracts of the first para of the letter-dated 03.08.2018 are reproduced herein below:

“I am to invite your attention to the reference 8th cited wherein, it is requested to provide the Action Taken Report against the illegal mining of heavy mineral beach sand in Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh by M/s. Trimex Sands Pvt. Ltd. I am to inform that the status report on complaint petition filed by Anjani Sri Mourya Sunkavalli against Trimex Sands Pvt. Ltd. has already been submitted to Ministry of Mines, Govt. of India, New Delhi vide this officer letter of even number dt. 20.04.2018 and again on 30.04.2018 vide references File No. 377/M.III/A2/2017 and 7th cited. However, a copy of the same is enclosed for ready reference.”

(xii) In the light of above, a letter dated 21.08.2018 of State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh, Niranjan Kumar Singh, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Mines, Govt. of India perforce issued a letter to Secretary, State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh reiterating the earlier directions of Ministry of Mines issued vide letter dated 08.01.2018. In the letter dated 21.08.2018, there is absolutely no reference of earlier two letters dated 20.04.2018 and 30.04.2018 and a false impression is given as if the Action Taken Report had been received by Ministry of Mines only for the first time on 03.08.2018. Moreover, the letter dated 03.08.2018 of State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh as well as letter 21.08.2018 are conspicuously silent about the non-recovery of amount of about Rs. 1295 crores by the State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh despite having been directed so earlier by Ministry of Mines vide its letter dated 08.01.2018 and also about the determination of mining lease held by Trimex Group in which illegal mining activities are being carried out by them and various other violations committed under the mining acts and rules.

(xiii) In fact, by not taking any action on the Action Taken Report sent by State Govt. of Andhra Pradesh on 20.04.2018, the officials of Ministry of Mines allowed continuation of illegal mining activities by Trimex Group for the intervening period also.

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