The Supreme Court today asked the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC), the associations representing various private industries related to mining and iron ore and the Karnataka government to draft a scheme for the e-auction of iron ore. They will also evolve a pricing mechanism.
The court did not pass any order granting relief to the mining firms but promised to do so on August 17, after examining the report of the Central Empowered Committee. The committee submitted its report to the bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam. Since the three judges on the bench wanted to read the report, they adjourned the hearing till next Friday.
NMDC complained that though it can produce one million tonnes iron ore a month, it was handicapped by the fact that it cannot store it for long-term contracts. Therefore, it wanted the court to allow auction. It is reported that the committee has recommended some relaxation in the ban imposed by the court on mining last year, amidst allegations of rampant illegal excavation involving top companies and state politicians. It was submitted by counsel for various mining firms that 16 mines could be allowed to resume operations after fulfiling the tough conditions on reclamation and rehabilitation (R & R) prescribed by the committee. The court had earlier made it clear that unless the R&R are not put in place, the mining activity will not be allowed. Counsel pleaded that 13 firms in the A category, which are considered the least environmentally exploitative, could be allowed to resume operations. But the judges did not allow it as they wanted to go by the report.
Prashant Bhushan, counsel for Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, a public interest organisation, submitted that the mining firms have not complied with their promise of putting in place the R&R facilities. According to him, they should not be allowed to function unless there was first-hand proof that they are complying with the conditions imposed on them. Chief Justice S H Kapadia, who headed the ‘forest bench’ hearing the cases relating to Karnataka mines and the Obalapuram mines in Andhra Pradesh has opted out of the bench and the new one consists of Justice Alam, Justice K S Radhkrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar.