A vacation bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to entertain the plea of iron and steel manufacturers of Karnataka that they should be allowed to mine iron ore till the panel appointed by the court conducts a survey and submit its findings.

A vacation bench comprising Justices G.S. Singhvi and Chadramauli Prasad declined to entertain the plea of the Karnataka Iron and Steel Manufacturer’s association on the ground that the matter was heard by a special forest bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia.

“It is before a special three-judge bench. We have nothing to do in this matter,” the bench said and asked the petitioners to approach the special forest bench which would sit in July.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the steel producers, submitted before the bench that as per the Supreme Court’s order of May 6, the joint team has to first survey the area of mining and then issue stop notice after finding encroachment.

On May 6, the Supreme Court had directed formation of a special team to conduct a survey and demarcate the boundaries of 99 iron ore mines. As per the order, the team was to conduct a survey and demarcate the leased mines and if any encroachment was found, the mining in the entire leased area would stop.

The joint team had representatives of the Forest Department and the Mines and Geology Department of Karnataka government, the Lokayukta and the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC)

However, according to the association, some of its suppliers had got notices from the Mining and Geology Department of Karnataka for conducting survey in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court.

“In terms of the notice received by the mining lease holders from the mines department, the mining lease holders have been directed to stop all mining operations prior to the conduct of survey,” the association said in its plea seeking a clarification on the May 6 order passed by the Supreme Court.

“Most of the applicant suppliers have been forced to shut down their mines despite the directions of the mining department being squarely contrary to the order of May 6 of this court, as the order contemplated stoppage of mining activity after conduct of the joint survey and not prior to or during the joint survey,” it said.

They further contended that the steel producers of the state will have to shut down their operations as they are now facing shortage of iron ore.

The association has already been impleaded as a respondent by the apex court in this matter, on its request.

The Supreme Court had on May 6 admitted the two reports filed by the CEC and directed the joint team to visit the site of all the 99 mines to carry out demarcation.

“If that team comes to the conclusion that there has been illegal mining in the area outside the demarcated leased boundary, lessee (miners) shall stop mining not only in its encroached area but in the entire lease area,” the bench had said.

The bench had said the 68 mines, which were identified by the Lokayukta of the State for encroachment of their mining leases into the reserve forest needs to be verified.

The Supreme Court had further said if any miner, which is directed by the joint team to stop mining after finding encroachment beyond the leased area, would approach it in July when the court reopens after the summer vacation.

On April 29, the court had restrained 19 mining lease holders in the region from carrying out mining activities, including transportation of extracted iron ores, till further orders.

The court had restrained the miners acting on two reports of the court-appointed CEC which had found large-scale illegal mining in Bellary Forest area.

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