The Supreme Court today suspended mining operations in Karnatakas Bellary district,saying the miners greed has overshot the courts efforts to balance environmental concerns and economic development.
Bellary is a major contributor to the 24 per cent iron ore that Karnataka produces for the countrys steel industry. The suspension,which is with immediate effect,covers mines spanning across 10,868 hectares of the district.
The apex courts Green Bench led by Chief Justice of India S H Kapadia was not swayed by strident protests from the miners lawyers that a suspension would spell disaster for the countrys steel industry,iron ore exports and a 1-lakh strong labour force employed in the mines.
In every case like this,there are prayers made about our livelihood is affected,our economy is affected… But viewing this in a holistic way,there is a large-scale degradation of the environment (in Bellary). We will stop the mining, the bench,also comprising Justice Aftab Alam and Justice Swatanter Kumar,observed.
In a remark signifying that environment degradation is a direct threat to the right to lead a dignified life,Justice Alam said that Article 21 (right to life) overrules contractual rights of the miners.
The court said it has been driven to halt the mining activities because there is no other way to save Bellary.
This court had always tried to balance development and environment but because of the greed of some we have to ban operations. We have in the past tried to see that economy shall not suffer,we tried to see about livelihood of the miners,we asked them to make amends,but they did not. So now we have to ban, Chief Justice Kapadia spoke for the bench.
The court then directed the Environment Ministry to prepare an interim report within one week on the total requirement of iron ore by the steel industry,how much of it is required from Bellary and how much of it is exported from the district. The court asked the Ministry to get necessary information from the Ministries of Commerce,Mines and Steel in this regard. A meeting of the Secretaries of all four ministries has been ordered to be convened immediately.
The bench also sought information on which of the public sectors,if not the National Mineral Development Corporation (NMDC) which operates in the area,can supply the need for iron ore during the ban.
What is the requirement for industry? If requirement is on the higher side,NMDC will carry on mining to the extent of meeting the needs of the country. Private mining will stop completely, the court told Attorney General G E Vahanvati.
The courts decision comes shortly after Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde said a mafia-like network existed in Bellary where the Reddy brothers,who are Ministers,have influence and illegal mining there was like a single window corruption system.
The benchs blanket ban comes despite the fact that amicus curiae Shyam Diwan did not recommend one. Though Diwan gave a detailed account of the systemic failure and collapse of mining regulations in the area,it was the court which,for the first time,proposed suspending activities there.
Chief Justice Kapadia observed that the environmental degradation in Bellary due to unaccountable mining has reached such a stage that sustainable development balancing industrial development and environment protection has become impossible as there is no environment there at all.
When countered by senior advocate Fali Nariman,appearing for one of the miners,as to why the court cannot dismember the rogue miners from the law-abiding ones,the bench replied: When we take a holistic view that the environment has been degraded because of the misdeeds of some,everyone has to suffer.
In this context,the bench referred to its earlier judgment,ordering a blanket ban on the operations of saw mills in Haryana to save timber trees. We did not pick and choose then,so why should we do it now,the court asked.
The environment has been degraded… whether you did it or not, the Chief Justice said.
Bellary is no longer capable of excavations because of the misdeeds of others. The area cannot take anymore excavations, Justice Alam added.
Senior advocate Ranjit Kumar,representing an association of Karnataka miners,said there was no reason to complain as they already a pay Net Present Value (NPV) of their income to the state government towards rehabilitation and afforestation.
To this,Chief Justice Kapadia shot back: You do not seem to understand the concept of NPV. If the environment is able to sustain mining,then NPV can be launched. But here there is no environment at all. Here,it has reached such a stage that environment has been degraded to such an extent that sustainable development is not possible. Now you cannot say I have been paying NPV.
NPV is a concept the Supreme Court had founded in a series of judgments under the polluter pays principle. The value of deforestation is determined beforehand and this has to be paid by the project owners as a contribution to rehabilitate both the environment and local people.
The court further put the onus on the Karnataka government to undertake the rehabilitation of Bellary,and make the miners pay for it.
We will monitor the state, the order said,adding that the state will form a corpus fund to which miners will pay a royalty fixed by the former.
The bench directed its centrally empowered committee to finish survey of about 40 mines in Bellarys neighbouring districts,Tumkur and Chitradurga,in three weeks and file a report.