New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday said it will impose a blanket ban on mining in 99 iron ore mines in the Bellary-Hospet region of Karnataka, if further evidence confirms that this has caused environmental damage.
“If the impact of the mining is environmental degradation, we will stop the mining... We are looking at the macro picture. Prima facie there is excessive mining,” observed the court’s forest bench comprised of Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and justices Aftab Alam and K.S. Radhakrishnan.
The bench is hearing a public interest litigation that has sought its intervention in containing large-scale illegal mining in Bellary, based on a 2008 report of the Lokayukta—the autonomous anti-corruption body in Karnataka—and the recent report by the joint committee appointed by the apex court.
Bellary has 148 mines of which 98 are located in forest areas and are at the centre of the dispute. As many as 40 mining lease areas in the forests have already been directed to stop mining on grounds of violations.
“There may be legal leases or it may be illegal (mining). But if it has gone beyond a certain point; it has to stop. We want to know if there is damage to the environment. If it is there, mining should stop,” said the bench. It also asked the court-appointed central empowered committee (CEC) as well as the ministry of environment and forests (Moef) to detail the steps the mining lease holders should take to restore the ecology.
The court pointed out that in the past it was forced to impose a blanket ban on mining in Haryana’s Aravalli hills to crack down on illegal mining.
While the court did not pass any orders on Friday, it asked the joint committee to confirm the reports of large-scale environmental degradation and also suggested that amicus curiae (counsel assisting the court) Shyam Divan seek views from ecological experts. Divan has already recommended that mining should be banned in the entire Bellary-Hospet region.
The court also asked India’s attorney general Goolam E. Vahanvati to appear for the Moef in the next hearing.
Karnataka’s Bellary district contains one of India’s largest deposits of high-grade iron ore and a ban could hurt supplies to steel companies. A big part of approximately 45 million tonnes of iron ore mined in Karnataka is exported to China, that houses the world’s largest steel industry.
The Karnataka government had banned exports last year to control illegal mining. The Supreme Court lifted the ban in April, but exports have not completely resumed yet as there are now stricter transport permit rules, said miners.
The court, though, made it clear that it did not intend to ban NMDC Ltd, a central public sector mining company, operating in the region with large mining leases.
“Central public sector companies can be exempt from our ban because there has to be some balance. We don’t want the economy to face shortfall (of iron ore supply),” Chief Justice Kapadia said.
The joint committee told the court it will provide its next report on 15 August after field work on 95 mines and the final report by 26 August.
Ruchira Singh contributed to this story.