Supreme Court may lift ban on 63 category B mines in Bellary
The Supreme Court has allowed operations in 63 out of 72 category B mines in Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur in Karnataka, subject to conditions. Category B mines are those where companies are mining outside the lease area, encroaching up to 10 per cent more than lease area. Mines that dump waste outside the lease area, encroaching up to 15 per cent more than leased space also come under this category.
In its order on September 28, the primary condition that the court set is that of compensatory payment. For areas encroached as mining pits, the compensation is to be paid at the rate of Rs 5 crore per hectare (ha) while for areas encroached by way of overburden dumps, the rate is Rs 1 crore per ha. The Court had banned all mining in these districts in July last year.
The judgment further said that this is the minimum payment that the defaulting companies will have to pay. The final amount would be fixed after assessing the national loss caused by illegal mining and illegal use of land. The companies will need to submit an undertaking to the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) for payment of this additional amount. The additional compensation will be decided by a specially formed committee for this purpose. This committee will have officers or experts nominated by the Union ministries of mines and environment and forests, member secretary of CEC and state government officers, and it will have to submit its report within three months.
Vishnu Kamath, associated with the Samaj Parivartan Samuday (SPS), the non-profit that filed the petition against mining in Bellary, is satisfied with the order. “The Court has recognised that there has been an extensive environmental damage and has tried to monetise this as much as possible to receive compensation from the companies. The Court has, in fact, gone beyond CEC’s recommendations with this order.”
The Court’s second condition is payment of refundable guarantee money for implementation of reclamation and rehabilitation (R&R). If the company fails to carry out R&R, then the CEC would use this guarantee money to implement the R&R or get it done by an independent agency.
The mine lease holders have also been ordered to pay an amount equivalent to 15 per cent of its sales through the monitoring committee. The Supreme Court-appointed monitoring committee was permitted to sell the stockpiled illegal iron ore via e-auction after the ban. The category B mine companies may also have an arrangement whereby they may ask the monitoring committee to directly deduct the amount mentioned in the aforementioned three conditions before returning them the proceeds of the e-auction. If the amount with the committee is not sufficient, then the deficit is to be paid by the defaulting companies within two months from the date of the order.
S R Hiremath of SPS, is however, concerned about the larger goal. “It seems that the society has not yet become enlightened to recognise that environmental disasters like this one in Karnataka need to be dealt with differently and stringently. We need a complete stopping of all mining activities in Karnataka for at least the next 20 years to overcome or at least stabilise the environmental damage that has occurred.”