As the country limps back to normalcy after the devastating second wave of Chinese coronavirus pandemic, reports of a mining scam being unearthed have emerged in Rajasthan. According to a report by Dainik Bhaskar, the Mines Department in Congress ruled Rajasthan government has allegedly converted limestone mines to marble grade and cost the exchequer a loss of Rs 1,000 crore.
The Mines Department reportedly tweaked the category of ‘limestone (cement)’ to marble and allowed RDSA Mining company to continue operations in Danta (74.249 hectares of land) and Kela- Mela (10.4162 hectares of land) blocks in Pratapgarh in Rajasthan. It must be mentioned that that limestone falls under the category of ‘major mineral’ and is auctioned as per the rules of the Central government. On the other hand, marble comes under the category of ‘minor mineral’ and is auctioned under the rules of the State government.
A survey conducted by the Mines Department between 1983-1985 found that the two blocks in Pratapgarh have limestone. Similarly, in July 2019, another committee stated that the mineral category in Danta and Kela-Mela must be labelled as limestone. However just 9 months later, a committee recommended that the mineral category was marble and not limestone. Thus, the categorisation of the mine blocks was changed.
The deliberate change in categorisation of limestone, under the supervision of Additional Chief Secretary Subodh Agarwal and Director KB Pandya, allegedly resulted in an estimated ₹1000 crore loss to the government. It is estimated that Danta and Kela-Mela mine blocks contain 11.4 crore tonnes of limestone. Given that it has been characterised as a major mineral, the auction price begins from ₹419 crores and can reach up to ₹1000-₹1500 crores.
However, the deposit amount for the auction of marble is around ₹4-5 crore. The figure of ₹1000-₹1500 crores is drawn from the fact that limestone mines of approximately 250 hectares in Nagaur were earlier auctioned for ₹5000-6000 crores. Since Danta and Kela-Mela mine blocks are of 85 hectares, the auction amount would have been around the 1000-1500 crore mark. Citing sources, Dainik Bhaskar reported that the change in categorisation was done to benefit RDSA Mining company, which has been tasked to extract marbles from the mine.
The report states that in order to further benefit the company, no condition was imposed for the use of extracted mineral (limestone) in the cement industry. The Department of Mines and Geology has claimed that the change in categorisation would increase recovery and royalty by 70%. This is despite the fact that the usual recovery rate in Rajasthan is about 20-25%. While speaking to Dainik Bhaskar, Additional Chief Secretary Subodh Agarwal claimed, “In Pratapgarh, the allotment was done in a transparent manner. There was no scope for any mistake. The government will get higher royalty from marble.”
Rules state that if the mineral that has been recovered is different from the mineral that was auctioned, the mineral extracted will be categorised in the group it belongs to. Officers, however, refute the allegations of scam and claim that the entire process was done transparently.