Supreme Court seeks govt reply on lifting Karnataka iron ore export ban [11.4.2022]

Supreme Court seeks govt reply on lifting Karnataka iron ore export ban [11.4.2022]

New Delhi, 11.4.2022, Monday : The Supreme Court on Monday sought the steel ministry’s response on pleas to lift the ban on the export of iron ore from Karnataka, after the mines ministry responded favourably to requests by private miners to lift the ban imposed in 2013, saying that the situation on the ground has changed.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) NV Ramana, after going through the affidavit filed by the mines ministry, sought a response from the steel ministry.

On April 18, 2013, the top court had banned export of ore extracted from close to 34 iron mines operated in the state’s three districts – Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga – because miners violated rules. The court capped total extraction in these districts at 30 million metric tonnes (MMT). In December 2017, this limited was extended to 35 MMT.

Not happy with the arrangement, private miners approached the apex court by filing applications to lift the curbs as they claimed to have surplus ore that could neither be exported nor sold outside of e-auction, as prescribed by the court.

Backing their demand, the mines ministry in its affidavit filed on Saturday said, “The restriction imposed on state of Karnataka was under extraordinary situation prevailing then because of unprecedented illegal mining. However, the situation has changed. This court may allow export of iron ore to bring these mines on par with other states.”

The Centre relied on earlier reports prepared by the expert committee assisting the court on environmental issues, the central empowered committee (CEC), which had recommended reconsideration of the ban.

The CEC in its June 2020 report said: “With implementation of relief and rehabilitation (R&R) plans and scientific fixation of production limits, in each of the mining lease, there has been substantial improvement in the environmental parameters in the three districts.” The CEC further stated that the ban on exports was meant to be an “interim” measure.

Relying on the same, the Centre stated, “The regulatory scenario has vastly changed since 2015 by way of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Act 2015.” These mechanisms involved increased surveillance around the mining lease boundaries to curb illegal mining, star rating for adopting sustainable mining practices, and drone survey.

The response of the Centre came in response to a set of applications by private miners, with the first being filed by Vedanta in 2018 requesting export or sale of ore without recourse to e-auction and guidelines for export or sale of ore.

The private miners represented by advocates Dushyant Dave, Krishnan Venugopal and Rakesh Dwivedi informed the court that such an arrangement was working to their detriment, as across the country, there was no such restriction.

“I have over 5 lakh million tonne of unutilized ore. Across the country, there is no such ban. Even the steel ministry cannot say anything contrary to this position,” said Dave, representing a private miner in the state. Venugopal appearing for Vedanta told the Court that e-auction was meant to be a temporary arrangement and the company should be permitted to sell its stock outside of this arrangement.

The bench, also comprising justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli observed, “You are yourself to be blamed for this, the way you have destroyed the environment.”

As additional solicitor general KM Nataraj was appearing for Centre, the bench told the law officer to deal with the impact on environment as well as the effect of spare ore with the private miners remaining unutilized through e-auction in the affidavit to be filed later in the week.

The Centre agreed that the arrangement for Karnataka was unique in the country, and it was time to bring the state in line with the mining laws prevailing across the country. “The change in current scenario, as highlighted in the reports of the CEC, necessitates a re-look on the restriction imposed earlier. The operation of mining laws in Karnataka may be aligned with rest of the country….Apart from Karnataka there is no restriction or embargo on export of iron ore.”

The CEC represented in court by advocate ADN Rao presented figures for arriving at its conclusion to reconsider the lifting of cap and ban on exports. The 2020 report highlighted that in 2018-19, Karnataka produced 30.33 MMT of ore and, despite 229 e-auctions held, a total of 15.86 MMT ore remained unsold.

The court had on an earlier occasion indicated that unsold stock could be due to high price fixed by the company while faced with a request by the private miners to review its earlier direction.

In 2011, the top court stepped in to stop rampant extraction of natural resources by ordering a ban on mining in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga. This was done after a NGO, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, approached the court seeking orders to ban mining citing the principle of intergenerational equity and preventing ecological and environmental degradation.

12 Apr 2022