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CPI(M) and Congress trade charges over extension of sand mining lease to CMRL

The Congress and the CPI(M) sparred over who was responsible for renewing the mining licences of Cochin Minerals and Rutiles Limited (CMRL).

The Kochi-based mining firm had come under a harsh spotlight after the Central government-controlled Serious Fraud Investigation Office (SFIO) launched a probe against Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s daughter and IT company owner, T. Veena, for allegedly accepting a sizeable retainer fee from CMRL “without rendering” any tangible software service.

Congress legislator Mathew Kuzhalnadan reignited the controversy in the public domain on Tuesday after Speaker A.N. Shamseer rejected the former’s plea to raise the accusations in the Assembly.

At a press conference, Mr. Kuzhalnadan attempted to establish that Mr. Vijayan had shown undue interest and haste in reinstating CMRL’s lease for mining beach sand for rare and atomic minerals.

He said Mr. Vijayan’s interventions for the firm that contracted Ms. Veena as a highly paid IT consultant smacked of corruption and nepotism.

Flaunting what he claimed to be minutes of crucial meetings in 2017-18, Mr. Kuzhalnadan said Mr. Vijayan sought to help CMRL circumvent the Centre’s banning private companies from mining rare minerals.

He said CMRL procured a favourable order from the Supreme Court to maintain the leases despite an adverse decision from the Central Mines Tribunal.

Mr. Kuzhalnadan claimed that the Supreme Court had stated it was the State government’s prerogative to extend the mining lease as per provisions of the law and due notification.

In 2018, Mr. Kuzhalnadan said, the Pinarayi Vijayan government released its industrial policy, restricting the mining of rare and atomic minerals to the public sector.

However, he alleged that the LDF government had furtively added a rider in an order that the administration would implement the Supreme Court order extending CMFRL’s mining lease.

Mr. Kuzhalnadan cast the LDF’s purported decision to extend the mining lease as a quid pro quo to CMRL for retaining Ms. Veena as a “pricey” IT consultant.

Law Minister P. Rajeeve countered by stating that Mr. Kuzhalnadan’s accusation would ricochet against the UDF.

He said the A.K. Antony government had accorded four mining leases to CMRL in 2002. However, public protest against the company’s allegedly destructive and environmentally hazardous mining activities prompted Mr. Antony to cancel the lease.

Mr. Rajeeve said that after the Central Mines Tribunal cancelled CMRL’s mining licence, the firm approached the LDF government in 2017 to seek to restore the quarrying permit.

However, the government had turned down the request, stating that it ran against the grain of the LDF’s industrial policy.

He accused Mr. Kuzhalnadan of cherry-picking snippets of half-baked information from questionable documents to disparage the Chief Minister and the government. Mr. Rajeeve said the Congress’s smear campaign against the government would not pass muster with the public.

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