The Supreme Court on Friday directed the suspension of all mining operations and transportation in an area admeasuring approximately 10,868 hectares in Bellary district of Karnataka till further orders.
The Forest Bench, comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Aftab Alam and Swatanter Kumar passed the order after perusing the report of the Central Empowered Committee that said “over-exploitation” of the area had caused large-scale environmental degradation.
The Bench said, “We are satisfied that, on account of over-exploitation, considerable damage has been done to the environment. We are taking a holistic view of the matter. We have suspended these operations keeping in mind the precautionary principle, which is the essence of Article 21 [right to life] of the Constitution.”
The Bench took note of the submissions of Attorney-General G. E. Vahanvati that the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) would consult the Ministries of Mines, Steel and Commerce and submit a report. He also said the MoEF would undertake a cumulative environment impact assessment in the district.
To ascertain the impact of the ban on the economy and the steel industry, the Bench directed the MoEF to submit an interim report indicating “what is the requirement of Steel Industry in India as far as iron ore is concerned.”
The Bench said the MoEF should also spell out “the total requirement of the steel industry in the country, how much is met by the Bellary mines. How much of the quantity of iron ore is domestically required and internationally exported?”
The Court directed the MoEF to obtain this requisite information from the Ministries of Mines, Steel and Commerce.
It said: “the Secretary, MoEF, will immediately convene a meeting of the Secretaries of the Ministries concerned and furnish a report within a week.”
The Bench asked the Karnataka government to prepare a rehabilitation scheme for restoration of the forest wealth; to create a fund for this purpose and to recover the cost from the miners who had degraded the environment.
The Court also asked the State government to fix royalty on the export of iron ore on the basis of the international rate.
When the Attorney-General submitted that not all the exports were accounted for, the Chief Justice observed that this was a reflection of the “hidden economy” being exported abroad without anything coming back to the country. To know the environmental degradation caused due to mining in the districts of Tumkur and Chitradurga, the Bench directed the Central Empowered Committee to submit a report on Environment Impact Assessment on account of mining in these districts within three weeks.
Keywords: Karnataka illegal mining