Home / Politics / Policy /  Karnataka iron ore mining: panel order may delay resumption

Bangalore: The resumption of iron ore mining in Karnataka could be further delayed after a Supreme Court-appointed panel on Tuesday ordered more detailed surveys to determine the value of illegally mined ore.

Karnataka government officials met members of the panel, the central empowered committee (CEC), the same day and finalized the methodology for determining the quantum of illegal mining, said two state officials who didn’t want to be named. They also discussed the appointment of a group to monitor the process.

The surveys will be carried out on 63 mining leases in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka, among the country’s leading producers of the key steel-making commodity.

The detailed survey will use 3D laser technology and provide more accurate estimates than traditional methods on the quantum of illegally mined ore, said one of the officials cited above.

“Currently, there are four such 3D laser scanning systems in the country. These are hi-tech machines which have been used in other similar cases of illegal mining," the official said.

The Central Bureau of Investigation used the machines in its investigation of illegal mining in Andhra Pradesh by former Karnataka cabinet minister Janardhana Reddy. The agency took the assistance of Hyderabad-based Singareni Coal Mines to arrive at accurate estimates of illegally mined ore, this official said.

The new surveys could mean further delays in the resumption of mining in the 63 leases classified category B by CEC. Mines were classified category A if there were no violations, category B for minor violations and category C for major violations.

The Supreme Court banned mining in the three Karnataka districts in July 2011 on account of widespread illegal mining.

CEC has submitted a series of reports to clean up mining operations in the state.

In September, the court allowed resumption of mining in category A mines, but hasn’t done so for category B mines. CEC has recommended that category C leases be cancelled and auctioned to the highest bidder.

A survey last year determined encroachments into forest areas and deviations from mining plans. The Supreme Court ordered a fine of 5 crore per hectare for mining outside the sanctioned lease area and an additional 1 crore per hectare for ‘over-dumping’, construction of illegal roads and other such violations. Over-dumping is the indiscriminate discarding of excavated material.

“We are not opposed to the laser survey, but it will be time-consuming and delay the recovery of the iron ore sector in the state," said Basant Poddar, southern region chairman of the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI) lobby group. With regulatory clearances for category A mines taking time, output will rise slowly, he said.

The lack of iron ore has put the steel industry in Karnataka in a bind.

JSW Steel Ltd, which has a 10 million tonnes per annum plant in Bellary, said on Monday the stockpile of ore being auctioned in the state is near exhaustion. The firm also said leases where resumption of mining has been permitted have produced only about 710,000 tonnes of iron ore since October.

R.K. Bansal, chief executive of FIMI’s sustainable mining initiative, said that while a laser survey is more accurate, it could create more confusion, referring to the earlier survey completed by a joint survey team made up of officials from the state government and regulatory agencies. “Theoretically, this survey could change the categorization of the mines," he said.

On the reclamation and rehabilitation work that is being carried out in parallel on the apex court’s instruction, Bansal said plans had been drawn up for 70 leases, of which those for 45 leases have been cleared.

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