New Delhi: The Supreme Court has put back to mid-February a decision on lifting a ban on iron ore exports from Karnataka and asked the state to draw up new rules for when the current ban expires at end-Jan, lawyers said on Thursday.

Exports of the key ingredient for steel are likely to remain blocked until the court decides on the case, which has already dragged on for months and could see further delays.

“The Supreme Court has given them (the Karnataka government) two weeks from today to formulate rules for movement of iron ore for exports," Rahul Baldota, executive director of MSPL, one of the petitioners of the case, said.

Soli Sorabjee, the counsel for one of the exporting companies in the case, told Reuters that meant no exports.

“Since the (Supreme) court has asked the Karnataka government to frame the rules, it means (companies) cannot export because they have to await those rules," he said.

The state government had banned iron ore exports from 10 ports and stopped its movement to other ports for exports in July, citing a drive against illegal mining and the need to preserve the raw material for local use.

The Karnataka high court had rejected an appeal made by iron ore miners and exporters, including miner MSPL, following which a petition was filed at the Supreme Court last November.

“Everything will depend on the Supreme Court’s judgement and until then no exports will be allowed, unless the Karnataka government allows the ban to get lapsed on Jan. 28," said David Pichamuthu, director at FIMI southern region, a trade body.

India is the world’s third-largest iron ore supplier, with about a quarter of its more than 100 million tonnes of exports originating from Karnataka.