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Ban lifted on K'taka mining

                                                                                                     The Pioneet, New Delhi, 19th April, 2013

The long wait by the steel industry to get its raw material got over on Thursday as the Supreme Court lifted ban over 90 iron ore mining leases in Karnataka, closed on account of serious violations of lease agreement and forest conservation provisions.

At the same time the SC cancelled 49 leases and directed the State Government to forfeit the extracted ore. Many of these licences are held by powerful political leaders who will be contesting the Karnataka Assembly polls.

The fate of the five mines held by all-powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary will be decided later as the SC has not given its verdict on mines falling within the Andhra Pradesh border. The court permitted grant of fresh leases by the State, in view of the shortfall created due to cancellation of leases. For those allowed resumption of business, the Bench laid down that its order would come into effect on the reclamation and rehabilitation measures laid down in the judgement.

A total of 166 mining leases were examined by the apex court’s forest bench after rampant illegal mining in districts of Bellary, Chitradurg and Tumkur was brought to its notice by a PIL filed by Samaj Parivartan Samudaya and others.

A joint inspection undertaken on court orders and a subsequent report prepared by SC-appointed expert panel — Central Empowered Committee — presented the larger picture which shocked the judicial conscience. Terming the loss caused to the environment, forest and natural resources as “unprecedented”, the Bench directed immediate closure of 51 mining leases, while suspending seven leases operating on Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh border till the Surveyor General of India undertakes demarcation of State boundaries. The extent of damage was visible to the court through satellite imageries and figures presented before it. The figures told a staggering account of the production of iron ore from 12.4 million metric tonne (MMT) in 2001-02 to 44.39 MMT by 2009. A statement in the Karnataka Assembly admitted that 30.49 MMT illegal ore was exported during 2003 and

2010 that robbed the State of Rs15,245 crore.

Based on the extent of encroachment of forest land by way of mining pits and over burden dumps operated by the mining companies, some of which are controlled by the powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary, the 166 leases were categorised into Categories A, B, and C. The first was the cleanest of the lot, 45 in all, of which 18 were permitted to operate by the court on September 3, 2012. On Thursday, the remaining 27 were given the go-ahead to function. The less serious violators, 63 of them in number, comprised Category B while 49 Category C mines proved to be the most brazen violators. “Illegal mining apart from playing havoc on the national economy had, in fact, cast an ominous cloud on the credibility of the system of governance by laws in force. It has had a chilling and crippling effect on ecology and environment,” the Bench of Justices Aftab Alam, KS Radhakrishnan and Ranjan Gogoi said. At the same time, the court kept in mind the requirement of iron ore to steel and allied industries.

Showing no compassion to allow the 49 leases to operate, the Bench went with the CEC recommendation to cancel these licences and directed State Government to forfeit the extracted ore.