Well, OK, they haven’t gone that far – but you can almost hear the collective mining and steel-manufacturing sector of India exhaling a huge sigh of relief.
Almost two years after it had imposed a blanket ban on mining across the southern State of Karnataka, the Supreme Court (SC) of India recently allowed resumption of mining activity in 90 mines here, subject to conditions.
These include 27 Category ‘A’ and 63 Category ‘B’ mines.
Simultaneously, the court cancelled 49 leases of Category ‘C’ mines, where the greatest number of irregularities was reported, for “playing havoc with the national economy.”
Of the 166 mines that were banned by the court, 21 were in Category A, 72 in Category B and the rest in Category C. Another 24 mines were abandoned.
While ordering the resumption, the division bench said it was shocked to see the damage to the environment in the satellite images submitted to it as evidence, adding that the public interest would precede individual interests of these 49 Category C leaseholders.
The court-appointed central empowered committee categorized the leases for iron ore mining as A, B and C, based on the level of alleged illegalities. While an almost negligible amount of illegal mining episodes was reported from the Category A mines, in the Category B mines, illegal mining was observed to be up to 10 percent beyond the mining lease areas.
The court had a few months ago permitted some of the Category A mines to re-start, and with this new order, the remaining five mines under this category will also become operational once again.
So What Are the Implications of the Court Order?
First and foremost, experts cautioned, it would be over a year before mining of iron ore could be ramped up to the permitted potential.
There is no consensus on the exact quantity of ore that will be added to India’s overall production. While some pegged it as low as 10 million tons, others said it could be anywhere between 20-24 million tons a year.
To be continued in Part Two.