Making it clear that illegal mining would not be allowed to continue, the Supreme Court, acting on a report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), on Friday directed suspension of the 19 mining leases in Karnataka in the Bellary region and restrained these mines from carrying on operations until further orders.
The Forest Bench comprising Chief Justice of India S.H. Kapadia, Justice Aftab Alam and Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan passed the restraint order after hearing amicus curiae A.D.N. Rao, for the CEC, State Advocate-General Ashok Harnahalli, and Prashant Bhushan for the petitioner and other senior counsel appearing on behalf of some of the lease-holders.
The Bench passed the interim order on the writ petition filed by the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya. The Bench said: “The CEC in its report has recommended that mining operations in the cases of 19 mining lease-holders be suspended with immediate effect.”
The Bench referred to Karnataka's response that the recommendations made by the CEC were acceptable to the State government.
“In respect of certain recommendations, necessary steps have to be initiated. However, the State is committed to curbing the menace of illegal mining and will take all necessary action in this behalf, including those steps which are recommended by the CEC,” it said.
The Bench, taking note of the State government's response, directed that no mining operations and transportation in respect of leases given to 19 mining lease-holders be carried out until further orders.
On Reports 3 and 4 of the CEC, the Bench said: “We are informed that out of 68 mining lease-holders, the High Court of Karnataka has passed final orders in respect of approximately 30 lease-holders. In some cases, review petitions have been filed and they are pending in the High Court.”
The Bench granted liberty to the CEC to file appeal(s)/transfer petition(s) within one week against these High Court orders to enable the Supreme Court to hear all the matters together.
The CEC, in its report submitted on April 15, slammed the Karnataka government for allowing large-scale illegal mining, particularly in Bellary district, in connivance with officials and public representatives.
It said that from 2003-04 to 2009-1010, a total of 304.91 lakh tonnes of iron ore had been exported without valid permits. Further, 71.28 lakh tonnes was illegally exported in 2009-10 alone.
“At a conservative rate of Rs.5,000 per tonne, the nominal value of the illegally exported iron ore from Karnataka comes to Rs.15,245 crore.
“These figures starkly highlight the massive scale on which illegal mining was going on in Karnataka,” the CEC said.
In its response, the State said it accepted the findings of the CEC and assured the court that it would implement the findings of the Lokayukta suggesting a ban on illegal mining.