The Supreme Court marginally relaxed its tough stand on mining iron ore in Karnataka's Bellary region, allowing only public sector NMDC to operate there. Private operators have been stopped from further mining and export.
NMDC has two mines there. “Under the extraordinary circumstances, NMDC be allowed to operate these mines to (produce) one million tonnes per month from tomorrow,” the ‘forest bench’ headed by Chief Justice S H Kapadia said.
It directed the state government to charge royalty on the basis of 10 per cent of the market value of iron ore and asked NMDC to maintain an account on payments made. The state government has been charging royalty at only 10 per cent of the rate fixed by the Indian Bureau of Mines at the pit head. This is lower than the market value.
The higher revenue earned from royalty will be used for rehabilitation of the mined area, the court said.
The judges also sought a macro-level environment impact assessment report of the region from the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education, in consultation with the Union environment ministry, Wildlife Institute of India, the Forest Survey of India and other expert bodies.
The report shall be given within three months, when the court would pass further orders. It asked the state to furnish within three months a reclamation and rehabilitation plan for Bellary district.
The partial lifting today of the ban in favour of the government corporation comes a week after the total ban imposed by the court on mining and export of iron ore in Bellary, following illegal mining/fraud charges to the tune of Rs 11,000 crore.
That order was made by the same bench, of the CJ and judges Aftab Alam and Swatanter Kumar, after getting a report of the Central Empowered Committee that said “over-exploitation” of the area had caused large-scale environmental degradation.
That order and today’s were justified on the basis of the precautionary principle evolved by the court to protect the environment from mining and other ecologically sensitive projects.
The court declared that it has the power and duty to do so under Article 21 of the Constitution, which makes the right to life a fundamental right of the people.