Scare over China link to Bellary ore

Jayanta Roy Chowdhury

New Delhi, Sept. 9: A report by a Supreme Court-appointed panel on illegal iron ore export largely to China from Karnataka's Bellary has rung alarm bells in Delhi. The report revealed that around 5 million tonnes of ore valued at over $500 million were illegally shipped out of the country.

Just a single port Belekeri of the 10 ports in Karnataka managed to export this huge amount; and more than 5 lakh truck trips were made between January 2009 and May 2010 for the Bellary ore.

CBI officials to whom the case was transferred by the court felt most of the ore were possibly high grade with over 60 per cent iron content. The ore was meant for China, according to the bills of lading which carry the details of a shipment.

Ships such as Shan Hai, Shang Wang Hai, Kang Yao, Jin Hzou, Hai Yu and Dong Chang Hai made regular trips from this non-descript port near the Karwar naval base. The case is being seen as a classic example of corporate greed and possible corruption within the BJP-led government of Karnataka, while aiding the growth of China.

Around 8.8 million tonnes of ore were exported from Belekeri ' the mine owners had permission for 3.8 million tonnes but they went ahead to ship a much larger quantity through this port alone.

The apex court's amicus curae and senior counsel A.D.N. Rao, who presented the report, said "This is just the starting, investigations will reveal more startling facts."

This probe is part of an ongoing investigation ordered by the Supreme Court and will cover shipments from other Karnataka ports.

The size of the scam may grow and become ten times more in a single year, CBI officials feel.

Four firms, all with links to politically powerful mine barons, have been indicted in the report ' ILC Industries Ltd, Dream Logistics, SB Logistics and Malikarjuna Shipping.

A number of smaller firms, too, have been pulled up. The report says: "The transportation of such a huge quantity of iron ore involving more than 5 lakh truck trips could not have been possible without the knowledge and active connivance of the concerned officers and other public servants."

Officials in Delhi have long suspected that huge amounts of high quality ore are being shipped out of the southern states of Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh as well as from the eastern states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Odisha to fuel the boom in China's infrastructure and the growth of its navy.

In the last 10 years, China has spent $40-$50 billion annually on infrastructure. Despite having scant iron ore reserves, it has emerged as the world's largest steel producer, accounting for 44 per cent of the global output on imports of high-grade ore from India, Australia and Brazil.

A large portion of ore shipped out of Bellary is believed to have gone into making naval ships in Chinese ports.

China aims to overtake the US naval fleet within the next decade or so. China's submarine fleet alone is expected to have 70 vessels compared with the US navy's 50.

Intelligence agencies have long suspected Naxalite groups in eastern India of allowing miners to truck out high grade ore for shipment to China not merely because of protection money given to them by the mining firms but also for ideological reasons.

A report by a team of experts led by former chief election commissioner B. B. Tandon had said the Naxal menace in eastern states had increased in direct correlation with a boom in mining, which had seen prices jump 118.5 per cent and production itself increasing to 154.4 million tonnes from 77 million tonnes between 2002 and 2006.