New Delhi: Ordering a CBI probe into illegal extraction of 50.7 lakh metric tonnes of iron ore in 17 months from Karnataka forests, the Supreme Court on Friday asked the state government how its agencies were unaware of the illicit mining on a massive scale going on in the state.
The court also directed the agency to register an FIR and investigate as to how around 8 lakh MT iron ore seized by the forest department were allowed to be exported to various foreign companies from the Belekeri port, allegedly by four Port Service Providers (stevedores) -- Adani Enterprises Ltd, Shree Mallikarjun Shipping Pvt Ltd, Salgaoncar Mining Industries Pvt Ltd and Rajmahal Silks.
It also questioned the Karnataka Government as to how its law enforcing agencies, particularly the CB-CID, were unaware of the illegal mining on such a huge scale in its own forest reserves and the transportation of minerals to the Belekeri port by using around five lakh trucks over a period of 17 months.
A special forest bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam directed the CBI to lodge FIR and investigate "thoroughly" and "comprehensively" the illegality involved in the extraction of iron ore from Karnataka forest and their transportation to Belekeri port from where it was exported to foreign companies during the period of Janaury 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010.
It also asked the CBI to conduct preliminary inquiry on the basis of the two reports of the apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) which recommended in-depth investigation of the entire matter and submit its report within six weeks.
Further, the bench said no other court in the country will entertain any plea relating to the case.
During the hearing, the bench, also comprising justices K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar, said "CBI can also take custodial interrogation."
The apex court also took to task the Karnataka government for making a submission that it was not correct on the part of the CEC to suggest that the probe conducted by the CB-CID did not inspire confidence.
"We are not saying anything and accepting the reports of the CEC for investigation by the CBI. Can anyone imagine that illegal extraction of iron ore in such a large quantity was happening and the forest authorities in the state were unaware.
"There were illegal transportation of 50.7 lakh MT of mineral using five lakh trucks to the Belekeri Port from where it was exported. Did you arrest a single person. Can anybody imagine that state authority from top to bottom were unaware of the large scale illegality. And you say that probe by state CB-CID should inspire confidence," the bench said when Karnataka`s counsel Raju Ramachandran was making the submission.
The two CEC reports of April 27 and September 6 also suggested the need for the time-bound probe to find out officials responsible for various associated illegalities and thereafter to take appropriate follow up action against the erring exporters, stevedores, suppliers, transporters, lessee, the stockyards and the officials for the illegality and irregularity found to have been committed by them.
In its April 27 report, the CEC had said the quantity of iron ore lying at Belekeri Port as on March 20, 2010 was seized on "as it is and where it is" basis and handed over to the Port Conservator for safe custody and was never released.
The Port Conservator had directed all the four stevedores, including Adani Enterprises to strictly follow the JMFC (joint forest management committee) order of March 22, 2010 permitting retaining of the seized iron ore, the CEC had said.
The report had said that despite the letter of the port conservator and the JFMC order exports were permitted in respect of large quantities of seized iron ore.
The Service Providers or the Port Conservator, if they had any doubts regarding the quantity of the seized iron ore, should have sought the clarification from the forest authorities.
"Instead they (stevedores), on their own, decided the extent of the iron ore seized by the Forest Department and permitted/facilitated export of the seized iron ore," the committee`s report of April 27 said.
In the September 6 report, the CEC has recommended, the CBI must investigate all aspects of the illegalities associated with raising, transportation, sale and purchase, storage and disposal of about 33.98 lakh tonnes of iron ore exported from January 1,2009 to May 31,2010 by four exporters.
Those named in the report are ILC Industries Ltd (9.68 lakh tonnes),Dream Logistics Company (India) Pvt Ltd (9.16 lakh tonnes), S B Logistics (7.74 lakh tonnes) and Shree Mallikarjuna Shipping Pvt Ltd (7.23 lakh tonnes) for exporting minerals from Belekeri port and consequent receipt/transfer of money within and outside the country."
The CEC also said that "the CBI may be directed to undertake preliminary inquiry in respect of 32.27 lakh tonnes of iron ore exported by 18 exporters and each of whom had from January 1, 2009 to May 31,2010 exported between one to five lakh tonnes of iron ore from Belekeri port."
"The exporters, port service providers, transporters, suppliers of illegal iron ore and also the persons who caused such illegalities are liable to penal action under the provisions of Mines and Mineral (Development and Regulation) Act,1957,Karnataka Forest Rules, Indian Penal Code and other applicable Acts/Rules," the report added.