‘Can’t allow in toto’: SC rejects CEC’s recommendation for lifting mining cap in K’taka
New Delhi: The Supreme Court rejected the court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) recommendation for complete relaxation of the ceiling limit of iron ore mining in Karnataka, as kit raised the ceiling limit from 28 MMT to 35 MMT for Bellary district, and from 7 MMT to 15 MMT for Chitradurga and Tumkur districts, collectively.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and comprising Justices Hima Kohli and C. T. Ravikumar said: “Conservation of the ecology and the environment must go hand in hand with the spirit of economic development and the fine balance between the two goals is what is sought to be achieved even now.”
The bench further added that the situation merits a cautious approach, keeping in view the concerns raised and to ensure that any changes in the situation with respect to the mining activity in Karnataka is brought about gradually. “We are of the opinion that the ceiling limit of iron ore mining may be raised from 28 MMT to 35 MMT for district Bellary, and from 7 MMT to 15 MMT for Chitradurga and Tumkur districts, collectively, it said in its judgment.
NGO Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, represented through advocate Prashant Bhushan, that such an order of lifting the ceiling limit might lead to unmitigated mining activity in Karnataka, setting the clock back entirely and resulting in regression of the entire state of affairs.
The Karnataka government, the Union Ministry of Steel, the CEC, the Karnataka Iron and Steel Manufacturers Association, along with the mining lease holders, submitted a changed situation on ground warranted a complete removal of the ceiling limits imposed by the court to ensure protection of the environment.
The top court noted that it has generally accepted the recommendations of the CEC when it comes to the ceiling limit. “In the present case, the CEC has recommended a complete relaxation of the ceiling limit. But we are not inclined to allow the same in toto,” it said.
“The concerns of possible over-excavation and its adverse impact on intergenerational equity, must be balanced against the concerns of the other parties, as the principles of sustainable development also come into play.”
Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the miners, asked the court to lift the cap, and pointed out that when the ceiling limit was imposed by the apex court, there were rampant illegal mining activities, however the situation has now been remedied due measures as per court orders.
Counsel submitted that the present mining lease holders, complying with all the laws, are being unfairly penalised for the illegalities that were committed a decade ago. He further added that “such ceiling limits has resulted in a discriminatory situation where mining lease holders in Karnataka are governed by one legal regime, while those in other states are governed by a completely different regime”.
In July and August 2011, the top court had imposed a ban on mining in Karnataka on the basis of CEC’s recommendation. The top court in April 2012, allowed the CEC’s plea for allowing mining with a ceiling of 30 MMT collectively. And, in December 2017, the top court raised it to 35 MMT in three districts.