The Supreme Court on Friday said that it will not relax its order banning mining operations in Karnataka unless recommended by its green panel - Central Empowered Committee. The court also asked iron ore mining companies to complete the clean-up and land reclamation if they want the ban to be lifted.
However, the court accepted the recommendations of the panel pitching for continuation of limited mining operations by the state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC). "We cannot allow the mining operations unless the expert panel recommends it," said a bench comprising Chief Justice SH Kapadia, Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Swatanter Kumar. It will hear further details on the progress of the case on April 20, the court said.
"Our experience has shown that whenever we have opened a space, many problems arise. I personally have the experience while sitting in the forest bench for six years," Kapadia said.
The court had banned mining in three districts of Karnataka last year after complaints of rampant abuse of environmental and forest regulations and reports of widespread damage to the local ecology due to indiscriminate mining. The districts affected are Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur.
The bench added that it will not allow mining operations at the cost of environmental degradation. "The issue of environment comes first," said Justice Alam. The court, however, accepted the recommendations of the CEC pertaining to the continuance of the limited mining operations by the NMDC.
The SC-appointed panel in its report had said that mining in two leases of NMDC should be allowed to continue.
"In the larger public interest the mining operations in the two leases of NMDC may be permitted to be continued." NMDC was urging the court to relax its order to resume mining state.
Senior counsel Fali Nariman, on behalf of the company, said the local economy in the districts of Karnataka have been devastated by the ban. "There were about 3,000 people who were engaged in the mining operations in the areas. Their livelihood is at stake because of the ban on the mining operations," said Nariman adding that mining has been halted for more than nine months now.
The SC further ordered the implementation of the reclamation and rehabilitation plans for all three categories of leases to start immediately. "It is made clear that preparation, implementation and monitoring of Reclamation and Rehabilitation Plan will be under the supervision of Central Empowered Committee," the court said in its order.
The SC also accepted the plea of the CEC recommending for a ceiling of 25 million metric tonne (MMT) for total production of iron ore from all the mining leases in Bellary district. A ceiling of 5MMT for production of iron ore from all the mining leases in Districts Chitradurga and Tumkur together may be prescribed, the panel said.
It said that the iron ore which becomes available should be used for meeting the iron ore requirement of the steel plants and associated industries located in Karnataka and also of those plants located in the adjoining states which have been using the iron ore from the mining leases located in these districts.