THE SUPREME Court on Friday relaxed the iron ore mining limit for Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur districts in Karnataka, stating that “conservation of the ecology and the environment must go hand in hand with the spirit of economic development” and noting that the situation in the state had “vastly changed” since the time a ban was imposed on mining in these districts in 2011.
A bench presided by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana allowed raising the ceiling for Bellary from the existing 28 MMT to 35 MMT and for Chitradurga and Tumkur districts collectively from 7 MMT to 15 MMT.
Acting on reports of rampant illegal mining, the court had on July 29, 2011, prohibited all mining activity in Bellary, followed by Chitradurga and Tumkur on August 28, 2011. By order dated September 23, 2011, the court directed disposal of the accumulated iron ore through the process of e-auction conducted by the Monitoring Committee and also constituted a Special Purpose Vehicle to take mitigating measures.
On May 20 this year, the court after considering petitions, which said the e-auctions conducted by the Monitoring Committee had received poor response and sale of iron ore even at the reserve price is dismally low, had allowed the “already excavated stock” to be sold directly without resorting to e-auction, and also permitted their export.
Though the mine operators also urged the court to lift the ceiling limit for production of iron ore for mining leases in these districts, the court decided to take the opinion from the Oversight Authority before deciding the issue.
The Oversight Committee in its report expressed inability to express its firm opinion in the matter in view of the conflicting reports submitted by court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) and the Monitoring Committee.
The court also pointed out that the state of Karnataka, the Ministry of Steel, Karnataka Iron and Steel Manufacturers Association and the mining lease holders were all in agreement that the changed situation on ground warrants a complete removal of the ceiling limits.
The bench said the views of both sides merit consideration. “The concerns raised by the original petitioner, of possible over excavation and its adverse impact on inter-generational equity, must be balanced against the concerns of the other parties, as the principles of sustainable development also come into play,” it said.
The CEC had recommended a complete relaxation of the ceiling limit while the original petitioner, on whose plea the ban was ordered, was of the view that lifting the ceiling limit might lead to unmitigated mining activity in Karnataka, setting the clock back entirely and resulting in regression of the entire state of affairs.
The court said “we are not inclined to allow” complete relaxation of the mining limit. “The situation merits a cautious approach, keeping in view the concerns raised and to ensure that any changes in the situation with respect to the mining activity in the state of Karnataka is brought about gradually…,” it said.