The Andhra Pradesh government has told the Supreme Court it has no objection to resumption of iron ore mining in Bellary reserve forest where it was banned in 2010 over encroachment of forest land and other alleged violations, primarily by Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) of former Karnataka minister G Janardhan Reddy.
Minister for Tourism and Infrastructure Development in the Karnataka government from 2008 to 2011, Reddy is under CBI investigation for alleged illegal extraction and money laundering.
The state made the submission to the Supreme Court after OMC sought the apex court’s permission to resume mining activities, claiming that “nothing further survives” in the case since the boundary dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka that had caused mining to stop was now resolved.
In March 2010, the SC stopped mining in Andhra’s Anantapur district until the mining leases were demarcated on the ground after its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) reported rampant encroachment and recommended that companies guilty of mining outside lease areas be allowed to resume mining and made to pay exemplary penalty.
Eleven years later, on July 21, the SC was informed that the two states had finally accepted the state boundary report of the Surveyor General of India. At the same hearing, as OMC claimed that this cleared the ground for restarting mining, the counsel appearing on behalf of Andhra Pradesh submitted, “on instructions, that the State has no objection to mining activities being carried out within its demarcated area.”
In January 2010, soon after Konijeti Rosaiah succeeded YS Rajasekhara Reddy as Chief Minister, the Andhra Pradesh government had told the SC that the Reddy brothers had in the Bellary forests illegally mined around 1.95 lakh tonnes of iron ores and that allowing them to continue would be a “premium on dishonesty”.
The SC is to hear the matter on August 10.
The apparent shift in the state’s stand has riled a number of officials who helped turn the tide against the Reddy brothers during 2009-2010.
“Since the permanent pillars and rocks marking the state boundary were removed to encroach on forest land, it was necessary to first determine the interstate line before demarcating individual leases, quantifying encroachments and fixing accountability. This is supposed to be the beginning (of that process) and not a closure,” said a forest officer who served in Anantapur district.
In fact, a second report submitted by the CEC in April 2011 underlined a long list of illegalities:
* None of the mining leases demarcated on the ground.
* Dumping on reserve forest land.
* Removal of boundary pillars to increase lease areas.
* Unlawful extension of mining leases by 12-17 years.
* Mining without forest clearance.
* Construction of illegal roads through the forest, including one into Karnataka apparently to smuggle iron ore across the border.
* Reported quantities of iron ore dispatched far exceeding the production capacity of the mines.
A senior official with the Andhra Pradesh mining department said multiple firms transported iron ore mined illegally in lease areas of Karnataka’s Bellary through forest roads to mines in neighbouring Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh and then to one of the ports as legal consignments to be shipped out.
“The modus operandi was clear to us. Even the SC said that material extracted by at least two companies was routed through OMC and asked the CBI (in September 2011) to probe the links,” he said.
Instead of “resuming business as usual”, the official said, Andhra Pradesh should “broadly follow the course taken on the Karnataka side” of Bellary forests. “There, each lease was scrutinised before placing it in one of the three categories based on the extent of illegalities found. While the worst offenders were barred, others were allowed to resume mining after making amends and a production ceiling was set to prevent over-extraction,” he said.
Riding a boom in the global steel market, Janardhan Reddy, along with his brothers Karunakara Reddy and Somashekara Reddy, rose to prominence in Andhra Pradesh in the early 2000s. Of 188 hectares under iron mining lease in Bellary reserve forest in the state’s Anantapur district, 134 hectare was awarded to OMC.
Reddy’s OMC and Brahmani are among the companies being investigated by the CBI for alleged financial links with the businesses of YSR’s son and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Jagan Mohan Reddy. The Reddy brothers were ministers in the first BJP government in Karnataka during 2008-2011. In 2018, Somashekara Reddy and Karunakara Reddy were elected to the Assembly on BJP tickets.
* Based on a complaint, MoEF suspended mining operations till leases demarcated.
* Andhra denied any encroachment.
* MoEF kept its order in abeyance.
* A local miner moved SC.
* SC issued notice to CEC.
* CEC recommended suspension of mining, demarcation of leases and recovery of exemplary cost.
* Report of a 3-member state committee also flagged grave illegalities
* State government suspended mining operations.
* State government handed over the probe to the CBI.
* OMC moved HC which suspended the ‘stop mining’ order.
* SC stayed the HC order.
* SC asked HC to hear CEC and decide the matter
* HC quashed the ‘stop mining’ order.
* SC stayed the HC order, stops mining until demarcation done
* SC asks for another CEC report
* CEC files second report
* SC stops mining in Bellary, Karnataka.
* CEC files multiple reports on Karnataka mining leases.
* Yardstick set for resumption of mining in Karnataka based on extent of illegalities.
Dec 2017: SC sets 12-week deadline to determine AP-Karnataka boundary.
July 2018: SC reprimands both states for delay.
22 July 2022: States agree on interstate boundary; OMC seeks mining permission, Andhra says no objection.