NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Friday partially lifted the ban on mining in three districts of Karnataka. It was lifted for a certain category of mines, with strict conditions. The court also allowed the auction of iron ore already lying in stockyards, under the supervision of a monitoring committee.
The court directed the Union ministry of environment and forests to “revisit” clearances given in the light of the reclamation and resettlement (R&R) programme. A bench headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia ordered that no unbroken areas in the forest would be excavated. With regard to category A mines, which have committed the least transgression on forests, the court has accepted the recommendations of its centrally empowered committee (CEC), which has insisted on the R&R aspect before starting operations. The court has directed it to begin the preparatory steps for R&R.
The court asserted it would not go into the individual problems faced by various mining companies. Its main concern was environmental protection and R&R in the three districts —Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga.
Even in the case of category A mines, the court accepted the view of amicus curiae, Shyam Divan, that operations could be resumed only after strictly following the conditions in the statutory clearance and after giving an undertaking to that effect. Divan cited the CEC report and asserted the R&R must be pursued vigorously and after that each lessee must scale down operations with sustainable development in view.
During the hearing, representatives of various industries presented their specific grievances. The court insisted it would not hear them. If they had any complaints about lease rights, boundaries or other subjects, they would be decided by various courts and authorities.
“We don’t want the economy to suffer, but at the same time, we can’t solve all the problems of individual companies,” the Chief Justice clarified.
Actual mining may take up to six months to start in the state. According to mining industry sources, the preparation of R&R would take one to six months for all category A and B mines. Till now, the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), a body under the ministry of environment and forests, entrusted with the job of preparing a model R&R plan has completed the preparation of the plan for mining firm, RBSSN, in Bellary district. This mine is ready for operations within two weeks, according to a Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) official.
“We are happy the court has given approval for restarting mining operations in at least some of the mines, which have not done violations. We welcome the court’s direction for implementing an R&R plan and we will put in place a proper plan as early as possible. However, we have to wait for the authorities to fix the quantum of iron ore to be extracted by each of the mines as recommended by the CEC earlier so that the total quantity of ore being extracted does not cross the 25-million tonne mark in Bellary district and the five-million tonne mark in Tumkur and Chitradurga districts together,” Basant Poddar, southern region chairman, FIMI, said.
As and when the R&R plan was done for each mine, mining could start, subject to the fixing of quantity of ore by the authorities, he said.
He said the approval to lift iron ore from stockyards would not make much difference to the user industries, as the quantity available at such stockyards was hardly about 550,000 tonnes. “It would be a big problem to take out the ore lying at stockyards because these yards are scattered all over the state and it’s a logistical nightmare to take out and transport this ore,” Poddar added.
The industry largely welcomed the development. “Today’s order is definitely a positive development, as now we at least have the zero date for preparation of R&R plans and resuming operations. Earlier, there was no clarity on the issue,” R K Goyal, managing director of Kalyani Steels Ltd, one of the largest miners in Karnataka, told Business Standard. He, however, expressed concern over ore availability to tide over the interim period before the R&R plans could be prepared. “It will be four-six months for mines to be fully operational, even if the R&R plans are prepared within the next two months. This is a serious concern, as we may have to close down plants in the absence of enough ore availability even from category A mines,” he added. The crisis is more acute for the likes of Kalyani Steels which, unlike JSW Steel, does not possess benefication and sintering facilities and is, thus, dependent on calibrated ore, not available from auctions. Kalyani Steels uses 1.2 mt iron ore to produce 0.7 mt steel annually.A senior JSW Steel executive said the company could respond on the matter only after seeing the Supreme Court’s written order. JSW Steel, with a capacity of 10 mtpa, is Karnataka’s largest iron ore producer.
Reacting to the CEC recommendations, former state chief minister B S Yeddyurappa said, “The CEC is only a recommendatory authority, let the Supreme Court take the final decision.”