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Bellary mining SC orders time-bound re-survey

The Supreme Court has ordered a fresh survey of all mining in Bellary district of Karnataka, adjudged the epicentre of illegal mining by previous probe reports, to be done by a tripartite experts’ committee within two months.
If any mining firm operates in areas beyond its leased land, its entire activity will be stopped by the committee. According to the order, 99 mining firms will be under scrutiny.

The panel consisting of the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) constituted by the court, senior officers of the mines and geology department of the state government and representatives of the state Lokayukta will visit the area and demarcate the land allowed to be excavated. The firms will be given a hearing by them.

The 99 companies in question, whose leases are to be re-surveyed, have been allowed to continue their operations until the next hearing.

In a recent hearing, after considering reports of the CEC, the SC had suspended the mining licences of 19 companies, all in Bellary district. Earlier, it suspended that of Lakshminarayana Mining, in the same region. All the suspended 20 were also barred from any transportation of iron ore. The order was passed by the ‘forest bench’ headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia, after considering reports of the CEC and the Lokayukta.

In all, Karnataka has issued 166 mining leases. Mining also takes place in the districts of Chitradurga and Tumkur, but the state Lokayukta had not found illegalities there. In its report of 2008, the Lokayukta said there was illegal mining in 1,080 hectares of forests and 74 of the 99 firms to be probed in the next two months had, it said, violated their lease agreements in various ways. The main charge was that they had crossed the boundaries of land allotted for exploitation. There was also no proper demarcation of the boundaries.

A D Rao, the counsel appointed to assist the court, confirmed many firms had violated the lease deeds and crossed the boundaries allotted to them. Despite attempts to survey the land, there was no final survey report so far.
The Karnataka high court had directed a survey. But various parties disputed the finding and claimed they were functioning within their allotted land.
In view of these claims and the ambiguity of the survey reports, the court stated that “the data need re-verification before passing any restraint order”. It said the order was an interim measure till July and companies aggrieved by stoppage of their operations would be heard after the summer vacation. The expert committee report will be given to the court by July.

LAKSHMINARAYANA

As for Lakshminarayana Mining, the subject of action in recent order, the apex court heeded the fourth CEC report asking that their operations be stopped right away. They hold a lease for 175.6 hectares in the northeastern range of Sandur taluk. The CEC said the company had extracted about 1.4 million tonnes of ore during 2009-10, substantially higher than the 510,000 tonnes extracted during 2008-09.

Adding: “The Forest Department remained a mute spectator to the destruction of evidence by allowing the lessee to fill up the pit. The lessee was also allowed to remove the so-called overburden without verifying whether it contained any saleable iron ore. In spite of the lessee committing a series of illegalities as seen above, the officers of the Forest Department did not take any action commensurate with the illegalities committed. On the other hand, ironically, the Forest Department has found the case fit for recommending for diversion of additional forest area under the FC Act. This is most disturbing, as it clearly indicates active connivance of state officials in illegal mining and transportation,”the CEC said in the report.

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