New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday indicated that it may permit resumption of iron ore mining in category A mines in Karnataka's Bellary, Chitradurga and Timkur districts, provided they complied with all statutory forest and environmental clearances.
"The statutory compliance must be there. There can be no compromise on the statutory clearance and the undertaking by the lease holder on rehabilitation and reclamation of devastated mines," said the forest bench of Justice Aftab Alam, Justice KS Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar.
The A category mines are those who are either free of any illegality or had committed marginal illegalities in their mining operations.
The court made it clear that the resumed mining activities would come to halt if the existing statutory clearances are not renewed before they expire.
The court's statement came when it was told that the statutory clearances in respect of some A category mines were coming to end in October and the statutory clearances for the renewal of leases has not come so far, despite applications for renewal made more than a year back.
Justice Alam held that mining activities must stop before the end of statutory clearance of the lease. "If statutory clearance comes to an end tomorrow then mining activity will stop today evening," he said.
As Justice Swatanter Kumar inquired whether mining lease holders could not apply well in advance for renewal of statutory clearances, the court was told that such applications were made but no decision was taken by the central environment ministry because matter was pending before the court.
As court appeared inclined to permit mining in category A mines, counsel Prashant Bhushan opposed it saying that all those who had indulged in illegal mining of an "unprecedented scale" could not be allowed to resume the mining operations.
He even mentioned the instance of a mining lease holder who "bribed the relatives of former Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa" to get mining lease.
Opposing the reopening of the mines even of A category, Bhushan said that first they should be asked to make good of the loss that they have caused to environment, forest and agriculture before mining operations are allowed to be resumed.
"We fully appreciate your concerns but we can't put the state in a pre-iron stage," Justice Alam said adding that "we want to ensure that minimum requirement of iron ore (are met) with minimum damage to environment and implementation of R&R".
"The question of damages is very open in our minds. Let there be no other impression. We are very much alive to it," he said.
Addressing Bhushan's apprehensions, Justice Alam said that the court was not saying that law breakers should go unpunished. "You give specific allegation against any of the 21 A category mine lease holders. We will consider them on merit."
"If they are not involved in any violation and they have statutory clearances then why should they be stopped (from resuming mining activities)," he said.
Leaving nothing to doubt, the court said that "resumption of mining activities shall not come in the way investigation of any other law that has been transgressed" by the lease holders.
The court will pass its orders on the Central Empowered Committees recommendations on Monday.