CBI probing conspiracy to auction atomic minerals block

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New Delhi, June 5 (IANS) The CBI is investigating the collusion between senior government officials and private companies for allegedly setting up an official channel, which apparently paved the way for the auction of blocks bearing rare and atomic minerals to private parties for mining.

Alleging a major scam, which is perceived as a threat to national security, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), in a petition in the Supreme Court, said the government is clear on its stand that the mining of atomic minerals cannot be done by private parties.

“The officials in the Mines Ministry prepared an official channel which permitted a back-door entry of the private parties in mining of atomic minerals on the basis of a letter of intent issued in the year 2011,” said an official familiar with the investigation.

The CBI has reopened, after a gap of 6 years, the Preliminary Enquiry (PE) into the matter after a go-ahead by the apex court.

The case is connected with the enactment of the Offshore Areas Mineral (Development & Regulation) Act, 2002 in 2003 to develop, regulate, and exploit the mineral resources available in the territorial waters, continental shelf and other maritime zones of India. In 2006, the Offshore Areas Mineral Concession Rules were framed.

Both the act and the rules came into force in 2010 and 62 blocks were notified for grant of exploration licenses. In March 2011, 16 applicants for allocation of blocks were short-listed as per the approved guidelines for 62 exploration blocks.

In 2016, the administering authority annulled the notification issued on June 7, 2010 and all consequential actions for grant of exploration licenses were withdrawn. There have been several litigation regarding the cancellation of these licenses.

The Delhi High Court, in an order on April 25, directed the Centre to execute the exploration license of the private companies as per the procedure within four weeks from the date of receipt of the order.

The verdict came even after the Centre, in an affidavit dated April 16, told the Delhi High Court that it has taken a policy decision not to auction or re-grant the offshore blocks to private parties.

Moving the Supreme Court against the high court ruling, the Centre, in its petition, said: “…the Division Bench as well as the single judge of the Delhi High Court erred in holding that the action of the Petitioner and the order dated June 30, 2016 was vitiated, as the objective of canceling the grant was a pre-determined act…”

According to the minutes of meeting held on July 14, 2015 between the Mines Secretary and the Indian Bureau of Mines, “the Secretary had indicated and directed to try and cancel the grant so that the exploration licence would be available for re-grant through auction,” said an internal document.

This official clearance, for the auction, was placed before the court to establish the stand of the government on the contentious issue. “The government officials adopted a methodology permissible within the operations of their department to make auction of these blocks feasible,” the official added.

(Sumit Saxena can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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