Challenges before reopening Bellary mines

Challenges before reopening Bellary mines

Challenges before reopening Bellary mines

A massive task awaits the administration in the iron ore mining zone of Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur districts following a series of verdicts by the Supreme Court. The issues are mainly revival of mining and implementation of stringent reclamation and rehabilitation (R&R) plan.

The apex court has now allowed mining in the A and B categories of mines. The mines in the A category are those which are free of charges of  illegalities committed during mining in the last decade, while the ones in the C category are the ones where legal processes were flouted the most. The B ones fall in between. While the SC cancelled leases of 49 firms in the C category, it has allowed 117 mining firms in the A and B categories to resume mining.

The court, on a series of petitions, affidavits and appeals by Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, led by well-known activist S R Hiremath, has set a ceiling of 30,000 mt of production a year to meet the domestic industry’s needs. So far, the SC-appointed Central empowered committee (CEC) has accorded approval of R&R plans for 57 mining leases with annual combined capacity to extract 7.34 mt of iron ore and 20 leases in category A with annual combined capacity of 2.5 mt. But only a handful have started mining.

Industry sources say production of 15 mt this fiscal could be possible but not many are buying this optimism. Official sources add that unlike expectation, mine owners are not enthusiastically coming forward to restart their operations as they have to meet the R&R norms, which involves huge expenditure.  The result: the area which once indiscriminately mined ore and sent a whopping 40 mt in exports alone, is struggling to produce even 10 mt.

Bellary deputy commissioner Amlan Aditya Biswas, reputed to have brought back a semblance of order in the Republic of Bellary, told Deccan Herald:

“Even in Category A, not all mine owners have applied for resumption, which is disturbing.  As in some mines not much ore is left, RR stipulations may not be met because mining may not meet breakeven. In about  40 per cent of A category mines not much ore is left, it may come in the way of ensuring ceiling.” Asked how then he would meet the ceiling, Biswas says  “There is a need to hurry with B category mines. We should simultaneously open B also. My personal opinion is that even fresh mining could be looked at, if A is not coming forward with guidelines set by court. I don’t have big picture yet but in case if we fall short,  we may have to go in for fresh leases.”

Environmental damage

All this would mean the R&R could be a casualty. Following the SC direction, the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education prepared a “Comprehensive Environmental Plans for the Mining Impact Zone” in order to restore the environmental damage caused in the areas by illegal and reckless mining on a very large scale and to ensure that the environment in the area may not suffer from such abuse and destruction in future.

For the implementation of this plan, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) will have to be set up by the Karnataka government. The plan, with an outlay of Rs. 30,478 crore is to be spent over a span of 10 years. Of this amount, around 62 per cent, 24.5 and 10.17 per cent would be spent in Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur districts respectively and the remaining 3.4 per cent would go to other areas and overheads.

Says Biswas of the R&R plan: “ R&R will be in two parts: individual mine R&R which will be within the mine head. Second, the court has taken the view that its environment includes human and animal population, the infrastructure, etc. There must be medium and long term R&R in all areas damaged by mining. It includes surrounding villages, upgrading the environment, making the mining area livable.

“We made a plan, sent it to government which made some suggestions and it is now before the court.”

There can be some hurdles over the SPV. The CEC is of the view that in the Compa (compensatory afforestation) should be routed outside the budget, directly, without legislative hurdles but the state government has a different view, wants SPV should come through legislative process since it has a corpus of over Rs 30,000 crore. Mining firms are to fund 10 per cent of their turnover to this corpus but the state government wants it to be upped to 20 per cent which brings in Rs 30,000 crore. “ We have collected so far Rs 800 crore through e-auction,” says Biswas.

Still there will be other problems to be looked into: how long will the government wait for the reluctant firms to spend on R&R? Who will foot the bill for new leases? What happens to the earmarking of the  Karnataka-Andhra Pradesh boundary, which, was allegedly removed by the infamous Reddy brothers? What about rehabilitation of hundreds of labourers/skilled workers who depended upon mining for a living? When will the agricultural land which has now become infertile due to mining become fit for cultivation? These  and many more questions will be bothering both the administration and the mining/iron and steel industry in the months ahead.

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