Wednesday’s directive of the Supreme Court (coram: Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta, JJ), imposing a 100 per cent penalty on the illegal mining companies in Odisha is a reflection on the BJD government’s negligent monitoring of such activity.

While the companies have been asked to deposit their dues on or before 31 December, the beleaguered state government can be thankful for small mercies.

The apex judiciary has stopped short of directing a CBI probe into what is generally referred to as Odisha’s “mega mining scam” across three districts ~ Keonjhar, Sundargarh and a swathe of Mayurbhanj. That scam could not have flourished unless tacitly condoned by the administration in Bhubaneswar; allegations that certain ruling party activists are involved may not be wholly unfounded.

No least because the 2000-2010 time-span, when the iron ore scam was at its peak, was also the heyday of the Biju Janata Dal government.

A CBI inquiry, which would almost certainly have opened a can of worms, had been recommended by Justice MB Shah commission,which was appointed by the UPA government.

The suggestion, it would be useful to recall, had been greeted with political uproar. Which explains why no action was taken on the report either by the Centre or the state.

The Supreme Court hasn’t exactly ruled out CBI intervention ~ “”For the present, we do not propose to direct an investigation or inquiry by the CBI. What is of immediate concern is to learn lessons from the past so that rapacious mining operations are not repeated in any other part of the country.”

That “rapaciousness” persists unchecked, elsewhere in the country, too. Having tacitly condoned the illegality, the ruling BJD has now welcomed the court order, hoping that it will muffle the shrill for a CBI probe. Clearly, the state’s order some years back, imposing a fine of Rs.60,000 crore on 140 mining lease-holders for illegality and/or excess mining has had little or no effect.

The court’s order on 100 per cent penalty is substantially higher than the central committee’s suggestion on a penalty of 30 per cent of the “notional value” of the mined ore.

The short point must be that a notional calibration of the ore is inherently indeterminate. No less critical is the suggestion to constitute an expert committee, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge, to examine how illegal mining has become endemic in Odisha and other parts of the country. In the immediate perspective, Odisha will have to substantially raise its penalty of Rs.60,000 crore in accord with the Supreme Court order.

With 102 of the 187 mines closed, most of them are not in a position to pay the penalty.

The illegality is as critical as sand mining in West Bengal. From the mines in Odisha to the river bank in Bankura, the political patronage is palpable.