The Supreme Court has stayed till January 4 next an interim order of the Andhra Pradesh High Court allowing mining operations in six mines in designated areas in Anantapur district and permitting transportation of the entire iron ore lying on stockyards on the lessees furnishing a bank guarantee.

By a November 25 order issued by the State Industries and Commerce Department, the Obulapuram Mining Company, Bellary Iron Ore Pvt Ltd, Mahabaleswarappa and Sons and the Anantapur Mining Corporation were restrained from carrying out all mining activity, involving extraction of iron ore in the district. But a Division Bench of the High Court on December 11 suspended the operation of the GO. The State filed the special leave petition (SLP) against this interim order.

On Thursday, a Bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan and Justices B. Sudeershan Reddy and P. Sathasivam stayed the High Court order after hearing senior counsel Altaf Ahmed, appearing for Andhra Pradesh, and senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, for the respondents.

When Mr. Rohatgi opposed the stay, Mr. Justice Reddy asked, "In the name of interim order, how can the Division Bench grant the final relief?"

The State said it passed the GO after considering the facts and the recommendations of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC). On November 30, the Union Environment and Forests Ministry conveyed to the State government that no mining should be permitted until demarcation of the leasing areas was completed. On December 1, the State government recommended a CBI probe into the allegations of illegal mining and encroachments on the Bellary reserve forest area in Anantapur district.

Assailing the interim order, the State said the SLP raised an important question of law, viz. whether the High Court could have gone into the correctness, jurisdiction and the powers of the CEC constituted by the Supreme Court. It said the High Court's directions on transport of illegally mined ore amounted to putting a premium on illegal mining.

The High Court seeking to legitimise mining operations within 40 metres of the boundaries from the neighbouring States was not warranted in law and on facts. For, the State was required to demarcate the boundaries of the existing leases so as to arrive at a conclusion on the extent of area involved in the boundary dispute, the transgression of the boundaries and ore extraction by violation of the demarcated areas, the SLP said.

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