New Delhi, Jul 29: In the midst of a political upheaval in Karnataka, the Supreme Court today ordered immediate suspension of mining and transportation of iron ore from Bellary district of the state saying “over-exploitation” of the area has caused large-scale environmental degradation.
The apex court passed the order by taking note of the latest 23-page report of its expert panel, Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which said most of the miners in the region were indulging in illegal mining causing considerable emvironmental damge.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said a “holistic” view was required in view of the July 28 report of the CEC which indicated that mining of iron ore in the Bellary-Hospet forest region of Karnataka, was going on “without sufficient infrastructure”.
The order came two days after Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, a retired apex court judge, brought out a detailed report on rampant illegal mining in the districts of Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga and its adverse impact on the environment and the people of these areas.
Besides Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, the report had indicted mining barons and ministers, the Reddy brothers, companies and officials in the illegal mining that has led to a political storm and the ouster of the chief minister.
The apex court today said its order of April 29 and May 5 restraining 19 lease holders from mining and the report of the survey team appointed by it recommending that violators will have to stop work in their entire lease area have to be expanded.
“In continuation of our earlier orders of April 29 and May 6, we are of the view that mining operations and transportation in an area ad-measuring approximately 10,868 hectares in Bellary District be immediately suspended till further orders,” the bench, also comprising Justices Aftab Alam and Swatanter Kumar, said.
“We are satisfied that, on account of over-exploitation, considerable damage has been done to the environment. We are taking a holistic view of the matter. We have suspended these operations keeping in mind the precautionary principle which is the essence of Article 21 of the Constitution”, the bench said while ruling out suggestions that it should wait for the outcome of reports from other regions of the state.
The court said it would also pass orders relating to two other districts of Tumkur and Chitradurga, also the hot-bed of illegal mining, after getting the environment impact assessment.
“We further direct the CEC to submit a report on Environment Impact Assessment on account of mining in Tumkur and Chitradurga Districts within a period of three weeks,” the bench said.
The special forest bench, which stressed the need for working out a formula to engage only the public sector undertaking (PSU), for mining in Bellary region, asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to come out with the suggestions in consultation with the concerned departments within a week on some pointed questions.
“In the meantime, we direct the Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to submit an interim report indicating what is the requirement of the steel industry in India as far as iron ore is concerned.
“Secondly, out of the total requirement of the steel industry, how much is met by the Bellary mines. Lastly, how much of the quantity of iron ore is domestically required and internationally exported?
“The MoEF will obtain this requisite information from the Ministries of Mines, Steel and Commerce,” the bench said.
It directed the Secretary, MoEF, to immediately convene a meeting of the Secretaries of the concerned Ministries and furnish a report within a week.
During the hearing, the bench said the state government will also work out the measures for rehabilitation of the region and the parties involved will have to make the financial contribution as everyone has to contribute for its restoration.
Further, the state government will have to fix the royalty on the export of iron ore on the basis of the international rate.
The court also made a remark that the Bellary issue is a reflection of the “hidden economy” being exported abroad. While passing the order, the bench cited the Haryana mining case where the apex court had banned mining in the area of Aravali till the damage is restored.
The bench had on May 6 ordered forming of the joint team of representatives of the Forest Department and the Mines and Geology Department of the state government besides those of Karnataka Lokayukta and the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC). PTI