Making it clear that development could not be undertaken at the cost of environment, the Supreme Court, which has banned iron ore mining in Karnataka's Bellary district, on Friday extended the prohibition to Tumkur and Chitradurga districts pending further orders.

The Forest Bench, comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Aftab Alam and Swatanter Kumar, rejected arguments advanced on behalf of mining leaseholders and iron and steel companies opposing a blanket ban without giving them an opportunity to respond to the report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), which formed the basis for the ban.

The court was equally concerned about the economy. However, a balance had to be struck between development and the right to life and clean environment under Article 21 of the Constitution. Environmental protection would outweigh such development, the Chief Justice said.

The Bench said: “According to the CEC report, which is based on lease-wise information compiled by the Department of Mines and Geology, Karnataka, a stock of 25 million tonnes of iron ore extracted from various mining leases in the three districts is available. The question is how much quantity could be released from the stock so that the steel industry is not starved.”

The Bench asked amicus curiae and Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati to specify the quantity that could be released, subject to the submission of reclamation and rehabilitation plans. “In that regard, the lessees, the Association of Steel Industry and all other affected parties as well as the petitioner will submit requisite inputs to the CEC within two days from today so that the quantity to be released could be decided by this court.” The modalities of sale and transportation would also be formulated and submitted at the next hearing, on September 2.

The Bench said that by a May 6 order it had directed a joint team to carry out survey and demarcation of 99 mining leases in Bellary district. “We direct that the order shall stand extended to the mining leases in the districts of Tumkur and Chitradurga and for the remaining mines in Bellary.”

The CEC was asked to furnish on September 2 the name of the government agency that would be in charge of selling the stock and keeping accounts of the sale proceeds (including royalty payable at 10 per cent of the market price).

The Bench also asked the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE) to undertake a macro-level EIA study in Tumkur and Chitradurga districts similar to the one being undertaken in Bellary, and to submit a reclamation and rehabilitation plan. Senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, T.R. Andhyarujina, Mukul Rohatgi and Aryama Sundaram appeared for the petitioners.

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