Jharsuguda: While groundwater depletion in the Western Odisha’s industrially developed district headquarters town has been a major concern, the hefty pending dues for illegal extraction of water by the mining major Vedanta Aluminium Limited (VAL) has raised many eyebrows. In a revelation based on RTI query, it has come to the fore that Vedanta Aluminium has not paid any tax to the State government in the period between 2007-2013 with unpaid dues compounded over the years from over Rs 4 crore to Rs 13 crore.
The Irrigation division had raided the company premises in 2013 in presence of staff and sealed 23 borewells after allegations on non-payment of dues surfaced. Despite the crackdown, the company allegedly resumed illegal extraction of groundwater for the thermal power plant and aluminium smelter, and continued to avoid payment of dues.
Responding to the RTI query by a petitioner SN Rao, Superintending Engineer of Burla Irrigation Division had furnished information in April last that Vedanta Aluminum was illegally extracting over 810 cubic metre groundwater daily, between 2007-2013. In January 2013, Water Resources department officials carried out an inspection and sealed the factory’s borewells which were being used to feed the industry.
But subsequently, the company officials reopened the borewells and resumed groundwater extraction. Not just that, the dues which initially stood at over Rs 4.9 crore (Rs 4,09,16,701) were not paid by the company despite repeated reminders from the Water Resources department and now it stands at Rs 13.02 crore (Rs 13,02,14,000).
While the government records suggest that the borewells are no more in use, the company officials revealed that the borewells were functional months after its seizure. The company continues to draw water till date. However, the officials are yet to take any action on it.
In February 2010, after the Chief Minister’s office wrote to the Water Resources department, Jharsuguda Collector’s office issued notice to Vedanta General Manager (Finance) underscoring the illegal groundwater usage and instructing the latter to obtain requisite approval for it. The company was also asked to pay the fine imposed on it for the unauthorised drawal.
The following year in August, Burla Irrigation division also wrote to the company. But to no avail. “We wrote several times to the company officials but there was no response from their end. Even now, the pending dues are unaddressed and Vedanta has made no effort to engage with the government in this connection. Every year, the groundwater is depleting in Jharsuguda because of its exploitation by Vedanta,” said Rao.
After 2013, no effort was made by the government to investigate the affairs of the company, he alleged.