The Supreme Court today favoured initiation of immediate steps for opening of iron and ore mines in Karnataka saying their closure has resulted in the slowdown of the steel industry.

“The industry is going low. The production should not be shut,” a special forest bench comprising justices Aftab Alam, K.S.Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar said.

The bench was hearing the application filed by Karnataka Iron and Steel Manufacturing Association seeking direction for taking immediate steps for opening of 16 iron and ore mines in which the apex court appointed expert panel, central empowered committee (CEC), had found minimum irregularities.

The apex court said it will pass order on the issue on August 17 after going through the action taken report submitted by the CEC in which it has dealt with the issue of Reclamation and Rehabilitation (R&R) plan.

However, the bench said, in the meantime the various stakeholders including the representatives of the state-owned National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), Karnataka government and others will hold a joint meeting on Monday to evolve the mechanism for the production and supply of the iron and ore.

During the hearing, the NMDC counsel Arvind Datar said there was no difficulty in production of the minerals but the area of concern was the shortage of rakes for its transportation and absence of long time contract was coming in the way of extracting large-scale iron and ore.

He said long term e-auction will help in solving the contract for extraction of the mineral.

The court also said it will go through the CEC report on R&R to ascertain that it was brought to the site and was not limited to the paper.

The Supreme Court on April 13 had accepted the CEC recommendations suggesting that no new mining leases should be granted in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka unless rehabilitation plans for the existing leases were executed.

Further the bench had also asked CEC whether work could be made operationalised in the category ‘A’ mines in which the irregularities were least.

Earlier in its report the CEC had distinguished mines in the area in three categories as A, B and C.

The mines in which there was least or no irregularities in was categorised as ‘A’ and those with maximum illegalities as ‘C’ category.