Halt the loot

Halt the loot

At a time when corrupt political leadership and the government’s executive arm have failed miserably to prevent illegal mining and destruction of forests in Karnataka over the years, the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) appointed by the Supreme Court has done yeomen service to the state by recommending a series of measures to prevent further plundering of the natural resources.

The Karnataka Lokayukta had submitted two voluminous reports in 2006 and 2011 detailing the illegal mining and export of iron ore, but the mining lobbies, some of whom were ministers, were so powerful that the government took no action to stop these illegal activities. It was only after the intervention of the Supreme Court that the mining was completely stopped last July and the CEC was asked to make further inquiries and report back to the court.

The CEC, in its final report submitted to the apex court on Monday, has recommended cancellation of 49 mining leases in Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur districts, where “there was rampant, unauthorised, unregulated, environmentally unsustainable and illegal mining that had no parallel in the country.” The panel has suggested conditional resumption of mining in 45 leases, with a cap of 30 million metric tons per year.

In the remaining 72 leases, it has prescribed a reclamation and rehabilitation programme based on the ecological impact assessment report prepared by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE). The committee has also recommended imposition of a penalty on lease holders involved in illegal mining to create a corpus of Rs 300 crore for the state government to take up rehabilitation of the devastated region. The CEC has done well to reject ICFRE’s recommendation to permit mining in the ecologically sensitive Western Ghats using ‘superior underground technology,’ as it would have led to more pernicious ecological disasters.

The CEC’s suggestion for auctioning of iron ore comes not a day too soon as the Supreme Court too in its judgment on telecom spectrum has said that all exhaustible natural resources should be distributed in a fair and transparent manner. There is no clear estimate of the extent of looting of iron ore over the last one decade, but some reports suggest that it is in excess of Rs 50,000 crore.

Just as the Supreme Court is doing its job, both the Central and state governments should wake up at least now and have clear cut policies on mining, the distribution of ore, their export and the royalties to be collected for the benefit of society.