Why granite scam report needs to explain colossal numbers

It’s been more than five years since granite mining, slicing and polishing machines fell silent in Madurai district, and several thousand families of workers began worrying about their daily bread.

A May 19, 2012 report prepared by then district collector U Sagayam, an iconic anti-corruption crusader, indicated rampant mining rule violations, resulting in a loss of Rs16,000 crore to the government exchequer. If that report raised eyebrows, eyes popped out when Sagayam later quantified the loss as Rs1.1 lakh crore, after the Madras high court handpicked him as legal commissioner and asked him to probe the issue.

A lot happened during the period — factories were sealed, residences were raided, arrests were made, licences were cancelled and mining was stopped. Sagayam’s nearly 1,000-page report had explosive content and even suspected human sacrifice by quarry operators. The high court impleaded at least half-a-dozen government agencies in the case, and held several rounds of hearings.

As dust generated by the report settles, a clearer picture of the mining scenario emerges. And, it is not good news for hyper-activists who still cling on to the theory of Rs1.1 lakh crore mining scam, that too in Madurai district alone.

Documents of Granite Development Council, Indian Bureau of Mines, Geological Survey of India, industries department and Federation of Indian Granite and Stone Industries, among others, offer a set of data far smaller than the Rs1.1 lakh crore the Sagayam report talked about. While the IAS officer spoke about the loss, these agencies talked of the total value of mined granites at national, state and district levels.

For instance, India’s total export of granite for a 17-year period (1996 to 2013) itself was Rs53,374.2 crore, as borne out by records of Export Import Data Bank available with the Union ministry of commerce. Indian Bureau of Mines data shows that Tamil Nadu accounted for 13% of total granite export during the period, and its value was Rs6,808.65 crore. Madurai district accounted for 41.1% of granite mined in TN, and its total value was Rs2,798.43 crore.

When the total value of the granite mined in Madurai district between 1996 and 2013 itself was Rs2,798 crore, where is the question of the exchequer losing Rs1.1 lakh crore due to irregularities in mining contracts and practices?

Post-Sagayam report, a team headed by Mohandoss, deputy director of geology and mining directorate, submitted a report saying Madurai granite mines offered 90% recovery. All FIRs were filed only on the basis of these findings.

But, responding to the Madras high court’s directive, the director (geology) and head of the office of the deputy director-general, Geological Survey of India in Chennai filed an affidavit on July 28, 2017 giving a very modest recovery percentage. According to him, the recovery percentage of Madurai white variety of granite is 35-40% in a ‘productive zone’. It is as low as 5% in ‘structurally affected’ areas.

It means that even if the rocks are massive and homogenous by nature with a width of around 200m at a stretch, solid exportable granite recovery percentage is a mere 35-40%.

No doubt, all forms of mining — river sand, beach sand, granite and blue metal — are dirty to the common man’s eyes. But, when a fraud is alleged and the higher judiciary orders neutral audit, overzealousness is anathema to justice. Today, activists and officials have to prove the Rs1.1 lakh crore loss to the exchequer more than violation of licence conditions and other related crimes committed by the mining lobby. A mere contra-report showing loss of a lower value for the government would show the miners as angels.

As the dust has settled and the court sets out to hear the case, documents must prove the humungous loss suffered by the exchequer. But, every document submitted by every state and central government agency narrates a different tale which is not music to either Sagayam or anti-mining activists.

Sagayam’s allegations of customs fraud, false export bills, under-invoicing, data base doctoring and doubtful bank statements have not cut much ice with the judiciary so far. For granite export worth Rs1.1 lakh crore is too big to be covered up even if all these agencies had made a joint attempt.

Coupled with that is the fact that the factories have been rusting and several thousand families are staring at the closed gates of granite polishing units to reopen. Now, what is hard to prove are not violations of granite mining rules and contract clauses, but the colossal losses as alleged by Sagayam.

Source: A Subramani | TNN |

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