New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Karnataka government to identify unviable mines from an earlier list of mines whose operators were identified as the worst violators of environmental and mining rules.

A bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed that if the mines were no longer viable, they should be closed rather than their boundaries being redrawn. It also clarified that until the list is submitted to court, there would be no more auctions of these so-called C-category mines.

The state government before the court was seeking to merge various C-category mines in order to make them commercially viable.

“Twenty out of 51 C-category mines can be closed straightaway as they are not commercially viable for exploitation," submitted Raju Ramachandran, counsel for Karnataka.

The court had earlier asked the central empowered committee (CEC) that looks into illegal activities by mining companies to ascertain whether e-auction of iron ores was still preferable in the state.

Several mining companies and the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), a mining industry body, had sought a halt on e-auction of iron and manganese ores in Karnataka as per the apex court’s 2013 directions.

The apex court banned mining of iron ore in Karnataka in July 2011 following allegations of illegal mining that had resulted in large scale abuse of the environment.

In April 2013, the court ordered resumption of mining in Karnataka with a cap on production at 30 million tonnes per annum. It added that mining should be only through e-auctions and subject to monitoring by the CEC. It also ordered several measures to prevent environmental damage from mining.

The court’s ruling came in a 2003 case filed by non-profit Samaj Parivartana Samudaya against large-scale depletion of forests in Karnataka due to massive illegal mining.

The apex court in its 2013 order had also directed Karnataka to cancel 51 C-category leases and re-allot them to end users through a transparent bidding mechanism. Karnataka in January 2016 announced an e-auction of 11 of the 51 C- category mines.

FIMI and the state government have also sought the court’s nod to increase the cap on quantity of iron ore that can be mined in the state by at least 10 million tonnes.