Topcem Cement, which one of the ‘biggest contributors’ to BJP’s election campaign fund, ‘illegally’ extracted 4.34 lakh MT of limestone in Meghalaya.
Topcem Cement, Star Cement and Amrit Cement, the three cement producers in East Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya, had contributed Rs 4.22 crore to the BJP in 2018-2019.
Topcem Cement had paid Rs 1.38 crores to the BJP’s election fund, while Star Cement paid Rs 2.68 crores, and Amrit Cement paid Rs 21 lakhs.
Unfortunately, it has been found that Topcem Cement, which ‘funded’ BJP’s election, extracted huge quality of limestone without mandatory clearances.
Limestone is listed as a second schedule mineral and the rate of royalty is fixed by the Central Government. In Meghalaya, limestone was listed as a minor forest produce.
Royalty on limestone is collected by both Forest and Mining Departments.
The Forest Department collects royalty on limestone extracted from forest areas, whereas the Mining Department collects royalty on limestone from non-forest (leased) areas.
Additionally, the Mining Department realised mineral concession cess on limestone under the provisions of the Meghalaya Mineral Cess Act.
Sources said Meghalaya government was caught on the wrong foot for not realizing huge arrears of revenue (royalty and cess) from some of the cement companies.
The total arrears of revenue are more than Rs 300 crore.
Apparently the lessees had carried out mining without mandatory environmental clearance, forest clearance, wildlife clearance and non-renewal of No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from Meghalaya Pollution Control Board.
Senior officials in the Meghalaya government also failed to come up with a proper explanation on the issue of the non-realization of the royalty and cess to the auditors of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG).
There were 19 mining leases for limestone in Meghalaya as on March 31, 2018, and during audit, it was observed that some lessees did not have approved mining plans for the period 2013-14 to 2017-18.
The lessees continued to carry out mining without approved mining plans in violation of the laid guidelines and rules.
The lessees extracted 17.64 lakh MT of limestone during the years 2013-14 to 2017-18 for which no mining plan was approved.
As per official records, Meghalaya Cements Limited, which is producer of the brand Topcem Cement, ‘illegally’ extracted 4.34 lakh metric tonne of limestone continuously for five years.
Topcem Cement extracted 139,058 metric tonne of limestone in 2013-14 without any approval.
Similarly, in 2014-15, official documents showed that the company extracted 99,817 metric tonne of limestone.
Topcem Cement extracted 99,703 metric tonne of limestone in 2015-16 without any approval, the official report said.
The producer of Topcem Cement extracted 67,367 metric tonne of limestone in 2016-17 and 59,245 MT in 2017-18.
The CAG pointed out that the Meghalaya Mining Department knew that the lessees extracted limestone without approved mining plans, and it did nothing to penalize the cement producers.
It has also been reported that Meghalaya Cements Limited, the producer of Topcem Cement defaulted in contribution of Rs 3.12 crore (for locally procured limestone) to the Environmental Reclamation Fund.
Similarly, Star Cement has reportedly defaulted in contribution of Rs 5.74 crore, while Amrit Cement failed to contribute Rs 8.34 crore to the Environmental Reclamation Fund.
In addition to limestone mining without approval, the management of Topcem Cement also earned the dubious distinction of ‘looting’ the indigenous tribal population of Meghalaya.
It has been reported that Topcem Cement has been selling cement at a higher price in Meghalaya.
While the price of a bag of Topcem Cement in Assam ranged between Rs 390 to Rs 420, the price is between Rs 440 to 450 in Meghalaya.
Meghalaya government has already instituted an inquiry into the issue of ‘disparity’ in cement prices. The inquiry is being headed by Pravin Bakshi, secretary for Consumer Affairs of Meghalaya.
Meanwhile, Topcem Cement and Star cement have been accused of polluting two rivers — Wah Lukha and Wah Lunar.
In fact, Wah Lukha has turned ‘deep blue’ because of ‘high level of pollution’, and the Khasi Students Union (KSU) has raised the issue with the state government.
KSU has set a deadline of three weeks to the Meghalaya government to identify the root cause of the changing colour of Wah Lukha, and to resolve the problem.