Belekeri ore weighs on Forest dept as bidders keep away

Belekeri ore weighs on Forest dept as bidders keep away

The Forest department has spent between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh to protect 2.72 lakh metric tonnes of ore at the Belekeri port in Uttara Kannada district. dh file photo

Disposing of the 2.72 lakh metric tonnes of illegal iron ore stored at Belekeri port has become a Herculean task for the forest department, with two e-auction notices getting a poor response from bidders. 

A recent confusion over the ownership of the ore has complicated the process.

The seizing of 8 lakh metric tonne of iron ore by the Forest department became central to former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde’s investigation into the illegal mining scam. While a part of the ore was looted, leading to a CBI investigation, the department has been keeping a watch on the 2.72 lakh metric tonne (56 heaps) of iron ore stored at the port.

The department has spent between Rs 15 lakh and Rs 20 lakh in protecting the iron ore and approached the court, seeking to sell it. In 2015, the special CBI judge allowed the auction through e-tender under the supervision of a monitoring committee.

“We called two e-tenders, but there was hardly any positive response from the bidders. The steel plants are in Ballari, from where the ore was brought illegally for export. Limited profit in carrying the material back all the way to Ballari may have discouraged bidders,” a senior official said.

Over the last few years, officials have spent a considerable amount of time and effort, besides the money, in protecting the material.

“The heavy rains in the area threatened to wash away the heaps of ore. Though port authorities keep a vigil, the department has taken responsibility of keeping a watch on it, on behalf of the government,” an officer who visited the spot said.

Last year, following an appeal by the state government, the Supreme Court had set aside a judgement by the Karnataka High Court allowing the release of 34,544 metric tonnes of the seized iron ore to Vedanta Ltd. The apex court had allowed the company to approach the special CBI judge in the city, seeking the release of the material.

Mines and Geology department director N S Prasanna Kumar said the gap of about 10 years between extraction of the ore and its sale, including the long period of exposure, will not have any negative impact on its quality. Asked about the estimated value of the heaps, he said, “We will assess and grade the quality of ore, following which a value can be estimated,” he said.

While officials refused to disclose the rates, they said the ore is expected to fetch between Rs 55 crore and
Rs 60 crore. When asked
about the next course of action, Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Forest Resource Management) Brijesh Kumar Dikshit said they will wait for the path to be cleared.

“We will seek a way forward, provided there is no restriction on the disposal of the ore. The Supreme Court-appointed central empowered committee will bring it to the notice of the apex court that previous attempts at e-auction have failed and request for an exemption to export the seized material,” he said.