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SC seeks environment ministry input on iron ore mining cap in Odisha

SC seeks environment ministry input on iron ore mining cap in Odisha

In a significant development, the Supreme Court has sought the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change's (MoEFCC) perspective on the potential imposition of a cap on iron ore mining activities in Odisha. This move comes as the court underlines the crucial considerations of sustainable development and intergenerational equity in exploiting the region's finite iron ore reserves.

The court's decision follows a careful examination of the Union Ministry of Mines' affidavit in response to a previous inquiry, where it sought clarification on the feasibility of limiting mining operations in Odisha due to the depleting iron ore reserves. Noting the absence of the MoEFCC's viewpoint, the bench, including Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud, stressed the importance of obtaining insights from the expert body regarding the environmental consequences and principles of intergenerational equity associated with iron ore mining.

The petitioner, Common Cause, an NGO, argued that at the current extraction rate, iron ore reserves in Odisha are projected to be exhausted within 25 years. Consequently, they urged the court to impose a cap on mining activities to address this pressing concern.

Earlier, the Supreme Court had requested a response from the Central Government concerning the possibility of imposing restrictions on mining activities in Odisha, considering the finite nature of iron ore reserves in the state.

Simultaneously, the bench instructed the Odisha government to submit a new affidavit within four weeks, providing details on the recoveries of outstanding payments from mining companies found guilty of violating regulations. This directive follows a previous order issued on August 14, where the court sought information on seized properties and recoveries.

Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi, representing Odisha, reported the successful recovery of a substantial sum in fines from defaulting mining companies but highlighted an outstanding amount of Rs 2,622 crore still pending collection. Dwivedi assured the court of necessary measures for the prompt recovery of remaining dues.

Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) initiated by Common Cause against illegal mining since 2014, the bench acknowledged the NGO's proposal to bar defaulting companies or their promoters from future auction processes related to the state's mineral resources. Additionally, the suggestion to recover outstanding dues by attaching properties of defaulting firms received the court's endorsement.

The Odisha government clarified that lease agreements with defaulting firms had expired, and no new leases had been granted to them.

Lawyer Prashant Bhushan emphasized the need for a limitation on iron ore mining in Odisha, akin to measures implemented in Karnataka and Goa. The Odisha government asserted an estimated iron ore reserve of 9,220 million tonnes, subject to ongoing research. In response, the bench requested the Central Government to review and provide its response within eight weeks regarding the possibility of imposing a cap on iron ore mining in the state.

Case: Common Cause vs. Union of India & Ors,

Writ Petition(s)(Civil) No(s).114/2014.

Click here to read/download Judgment.

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