Bangalore: Illegal mining in Karnataka has already cost BS Yeddyurappa of the BJP his job as Chief Minister. Today, the Supreme Court ordered the suspension of all mining operations in the Bellary district.
The court said it was shocked by the extent of the environmental damage in the area. It wants the Karnataka government to take responsibility for restoring the ecological balance here by asking mining companies to pay for the clean-up required.
The court has also asked the government to explain how much iron-ore is required by industry, what percentage of this is met by Bellary, and how much steel produced in India is exported.
The court's questions are similar to those raised by the Karnataka Lokayukta, Santosh Hedge. In his report on illegal mining submitted to the state government this week, Mr Hegde said that politicians like Mr Yeddyurappa have colluded with mining companies to sanction violation of basic laws. Mr Hegde listed a series of mining companies who illegally transport massive amounts of iron-ore to ports for export.
"The greed of a few is making everyone suffer," the Supreme Court judges observed today.
Bellary has 148 mines, of which 98 are located in forest areas and are at the center of the controversy over the environmental problems in the area. At least 40 leases for mining in forests had been declared void a few months ago.
The Supreme Court, after a series of Public Interest Litigation petitions (PILs), had asked a special committee to tour Bellary. After its survey in March, the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC) said that the Karnataka government had failed to check illegal mining and that there was a connivance between different politicians, officials and companies. The committee warned that at this rate, mineral reserves in the region will be exhausted within 20 years.