The government has decided not to consider any integrated steel plants or iron-ore projects that depend on raw material mined from Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts in Karnataka for environment clearance. The decision follows a Supreme Court order that banned the mining operations in these three districts in July this year.
The ban came after a report of the Central Empowered Committee (CEC), an advisor to the court on forest related issues, said that illegal mining has caused irreversible damage to the environment in Bellary. It said nearly 45 per cent of the green cover around Bellary may have been lost. Another report by former Lokayukta of Karnataka Justice N Santosh Hegde revealed that between April 2006 and July 2010 the state lost Rs 16,085 crore due to illegal mining. The report indicted the then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and tourism and revenue ministers Gali Janardhan Reddy and Gali Karunakara Reddy in the scam. While Yeddyurappa had to step down as CM, the Reddy brothers are facing a CBI enquiry.
The court had banned mining activities till environment remediation and restoration is completed in these districts. The mines in these districts produced around 33 million metric tonne (MMT) iron ore in 2010-11. There are around 29 steel, sponge iron, pig iron and pellet plants in Karnataka and nearby states dependent on the iron ore from Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur. The annual requirement of these plants, as estimated by CEC, is around 27.7 MMT. The SC allowed only National Mineral Development Corporation, the public sector mining company, to produce one MMT iron ore per month from its mines for essential domestic requirements.
Following the order, the environment ministry decided on September 21 that it will not consider any new mining proposal in these three districts for environment clearance. Now, considering that the current production of iron-ore from these districts is not sufficient for the existing plants itself, the ministry has decided not to approve any new plant. In its order dated October 5, it said both the Central and the states’ Expert Appraisal Committees (EAC) will not consider any projects, which are linked to iron-ore as a raw material to be obtained from these three districts. The ministry has directed the respective EACs to de-list any such proposals under consideration and not to list new projects till the ban is lifted.
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