Export of seized ore from Belekeri port to be investigated

Ordering a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into illegal extraction of 50.7 lakh tonnes of iron ore in 17 months from Karnataka forests, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the State government how its agencies were unaware of illegal mining on such a massive scale.

The court also directed the agency to register an FIR and investigate how around 8 lakh tonnes of iron ore seized by the Forest Department was allowed to be exported to various foreign companies from the Belekeri port, allegedly by four port service providers (stevedores): Adani Enterprises Ltd., Shree Mallikarjun Shipping Pvt. Ltd., Salgaoncar Mining Industries Pvt. Ltd. and Rajmahal Silks.

It also asked the State government how its law enforcing agencies, particularly the CID, were unaware of illegal mining in its own forests and the transportation of minerals to the Belekeri port using around five lakh lorries over a period of 17 months.

A special forest Bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam directed the CBI to lodge an FIR and investigate “thoroughly” and “comprehensively” the illegality involved in the extraction of iron ore and its transportation to the port during the period January 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010.

It also asked the CBI to conduct a preliminary inquiry on the basis of the two reports of the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which recommended an in-depth investigation of the entire matter, and submit its report within six weeks.

Further, the Bench said no other court in the country will entertain any plea relating to the case.

During the hearing, the Bench, also comprising Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, said “CBI can also take custodial interrogation”.

The court also took the State government to task for making a submission that it was not correct on the part of the CEC to suggest that the probe conducted by the CID did not inspire confidence.

“We are not saying anything and accepting the reports of the CEC for investigation by the CBI. Can anyone imagine that illegal extraction of iron ore in such a large quantity was happening and the forest authorities in the State were unaware?

Illegal transportation

“There was illegal transportation of 50.7 lakh tonnes of mineral using five lakh trucks to the Belekeri port from where it was exported. Did you arrest a single person? Can anybody imagine that State authorities from top to bottom were unaware of the large-scale illegality? And you say that probe by State CID should inspire confidence,” the Bench said when Karnataka’s counsel Raju Ramachandran was making the submission.

The two CEC reports of April 27 and September 6 also suggested the need for a time-bound probe to identify officials responsible for various associated illegalities and appropriate follow-up action against the erring exporters, stevedores, suppliers, transporters, lessees, stockyards and officials for the illegalities and irregularities found to have been committed by them. — PTI

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