Supreme Court Mandates Probe into Karnataka Mines: Rehabilitation Plans Under Scrutiny

In a pivotal decision addressing concerns over iron ore mining in Karnataka, the Supreme Court has issued directives compelling the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Karnataka to conduct an exhaustive examination and survey of Category A/B/C mines situated in Bellary, Chitradurga, and Tumkur. These directives specifically target mines lacking submitted or approved data regarding rehabilitation and reclamation (R&R) plans.

The judicial bench, comprising Justices Sanjiv Khanna, MM Sundresh, and Bela M Trivedi, has instructed the submission of a comprehensive report by the PCCF, Karnataka. Additionally, it stipulated the implementation of R&R plans either through the Karnataka Mining and Environment Restoration Corporation (KMERC) or other appropriate agencies, with the financial burden to be borne by the former leaseholders in the respective categories.

The Court has further tasked the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), in conjunction with the Monitoring Committee and the Oversight Authority, to conduct a thorough assessment within the three districts and furnish a report within a four-month timeframe. Emphasizing adherence to parameters outlined in a previous report dated 13th March 2012, the Court authorized the engagement of scientific domain experts to scrutinize environmental data pertinent to the districts.

As part of this report, the CEC is mandated to evaluate the necessity of imposing mining caps in specific areas and to consider implementing systems like e-auctioning for the sale of mined materials. Additionally, the feasibility of conducting satellite mappings/images for each mine will be explored.

The genesis of this legal intervention traces back to a petition filed by the Samaj Parivartana Samudhaya, highlighting concerns of illegal mining activities and ensuing environmental degradation in Bellary, Chitradurga, and Tumkur districts. Subsequent to interim bans in 2011, the Supreme Court, relying on CEC recommendations, laid down guidelines for R&R Plans in 2012.

In response to subsequent appeals, the Court gradually adjusted production ceilings for iron ore, culminating in a significant elevation in 2022. This judicial journey also witnessed the relaxation of sales restrictions on Karnataka’s iron ore, permitting exports subject to governmental conditions.

The mines under scrutiny were categorized based on encroachment extent, with Category A representing minimal illegality and Category C indicative of severe violations. The ongoing legal saga, encapsulated in the case of SAMAJ PARIVARTANA SAMUDAYA AND ORS. v. STATE OF KARNATAKA AND ORS, reflects the judiciary’s proactive stance in safeguarding environmental integrity amidst industrial activities.

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