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March 6, 2001
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Balco divestment controversy rages on

BS Economy Bureau

The controversy of tribal land being sold to non-tribals in the Bharat Aluminium Company (Balco) privatisation deal remains unresolved. The controversy was raked up by Chhatisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and the workers union soon after the deal was announced.

The Chhatisgarh government had filed a petition in the high court, on the basis of the Samata (it is a non-governmental organisation) judgement of the Supreme Court, opposing the Balco divestment deal. The state government had stated that as the land on which the company's Korba plant stands is 'tribal land', the Centre cannot transfer it to a private company.

The labour unions have been on strike over the issue since Saturday. The case has now been transferred to the Supreme Court.

In its 1997 Samata judgment, the apex court had prohibited the transfer of land and mining leases in scheduled areas of Andhra Pradesh (AP) to any non-tribal individual or entity. In case of Balco, the Bodai-Daldali mines in the Kawardha district and the plant in Korba fall under the scheduled areas of the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh (MP).

Following the judgements, ministry of tribal affairs sent letters to the state governments asking them to implement the judgement. However, most of the states including Madhya Pradesh or Chhatisgarh having notified scheduled areas are yet to implement the order.

Legal experts clarified that the apex court's judgement was based on specific amendments introduced by the Andhra government in the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 (MMDRA).

The state government had made a local amendment by inserting a section 11(5) to the Mines Act, which provides that no prospecting licence or mining lease shall be granted in the scheduled area of Andhra Pradesh to any person who is not a member of scheduled tribes.

In addition, the state government had notified the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Area Transfer Regulation, 1959, which put restrictions on the transfer of lands in the scheduled areas to non-tribals.

In the Samata judgement, the apex court had interpreted the local amendment to the MMDRA and the scheduled area regulations and prohibited the transfer of land and of mining leases in scheduled areas of AP to any non-tribal individual or entity.

However, in case of BALCO, while certain areas fall under the scheduled areas list, neither MP nor Chhatisgarh have made any local amendments to the MMDRA prohibiting the grant of mining leases in scheduled areas to non-tribals, say officials sources.

Also, in the present transaction, the aluminium company is not transferring it's rights or mining leases to a third party.

After divestment, the company, as an entity remains the same. It is not more 'non-tribal' than before, they add.

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