Days after Union Steel Minister Virbhadra Singh lauded the Karnataka government for imposing a ban on iron ore export, Union Mines Minister B.K. Handique came down strongly on the State government for failing to get its act together on checking illegal mining.
In a harshly worded letter to Karnataka Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, Mr. Handique stated that banning iron ore export was not the right approach. Rather, it was a “sad reflection'' of the regulatory set up in the State. The Karnataka government was not addressing the basic cause of illegal mining, it stated.
Special police force
Mr. Handique had on earlier occasions asked the Karnataka government to monitor the movement of vehicles from mines to the ports and manufacturing units. He had suggested the use of bar coding and such other devices to check illegal mining. The Mines Ministry was of the view that not enough was being done by the Karnataka government. The need of the hour was to set up a special police force to check illegal mining.
The Ministry has also asked Karnataka whether it would like to review the 62 mining proposals sent to the Centre for approval or if it wanted to withdraw all iron ore mining proposals.
Officials in the Mines Ministry pointed out that the Karnataka State Forest Department had seized about 8,05,991 tonnes of ore without valid permits. A forest offence case dated 15.3.2010 was filed under section 2(7) (b)(iv) 62, 80, 24 of the Karnataka Forest Act and Rule 143 and 162 of the Karnataka Forest Rules. The seized material was kept in the safe custody of Port Conservator, Belikere Port.
Probe into export of seized material
On the basis of a report on June 20 that the seized material was exported illegally, the Karnataka State Forest Department conducted an investigation. It revealed that 6 lakh tonnes of the seized material had indeed been exported. Although, the State government initiated action against the erring Port Conservator and put him under suspension, it reflected poorly on the State's regulatory regime.
According to Mr. Handique, the Centre had urged State governments to prepare action plans to monitor and curb illegal mining, which included the use of satellite imagery and other intelligence inputs.
So far, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Orissa, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand had acted on the advice and prepared action plans.