New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday indicated it will pass an interim order on a plea for stopping illegal mining activities in Odisha and the priority before it would be to halt 40 out of 56 iron ore mines operating under deemed-renewed leases.
However, a green bench headed by Justice A K Patnaik, said it was not in favour of a blanket ban on mining but possibly pass an interim ban on 40 iron ore mine lease which are identified by apex court-appointed Central Empowered Committee (CEC) as operating as under the provision of "deemed renewed" leases after expiry of their lease period.
The order by the bench, also comprising justices S S Nijjar and F M I Kalifulla, was reserved after perusing the interim report submitted by the CEC that spelt out the status of leases and approvals of miners in Odisha.
The CEC said in its interim report that a large number of mining leases in the state had been operational long after the expiry of the lease period and 40 such leases included those of Tata Steel, Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd, operating under the deemed approved norms.
The CEC said there were 187 iron ore and manganese mines in Odisha and out of these 56 were functional while 131 mining leases do not have required statutory approvals or their leases have lapsed and are not operational.
The report by the CEC also said that out of the 131 mines, 102 were without either forest clearances or environmental clearances and were hence suspended and classified as non-working leases.
Further, out of the working 56 iron ore mines only 16 had lease deeds executed in their favour and the rest 40 leases expired and are operating as deemed approved.
The CEC informed the bench that Odisha government had said that the renewal application of miners were under "various stages of examination" and in some cases "in-principle" decision to grant renewal has been taken but follow up actions are under process.
Odisha government had admitted before the panel that a number of mining leases had exceeded the permissible limit of productions and the state has taken measure to curb illegalities and regulate their activities, the report said.
There is a ceiling of 44 million tonnes and 13 million tonnes on total iron ore production from Joda and Koira mining circles in the state.
The apex court was hearing a PIL seeking CBI probe into illegal mining in Odisha and stopping of all mining activities in the state.
The green bench had on April 21 served a notice to the state government and the Centre seeking their responses within four weeks while posting the matter for today on the interim plea for stay on illegal mining.
The court asked its Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to submit a report on the petition and give a list of mines involved in illegal mining.
The bench had also perused the report of Justice M B Shah Commission that had gone into the allegation of illegal mining in the state.
The PIL, filed by NGO Common Cause, had sought immediate intervention in the matter, saying the Justice Shah Commission has pointed out large-scale illegal mining in the state.
Citing the Commission`s report, the petition had sought directions to "stop forthwith" all illegal mining in Odisha and termination of leases of firms found involved in illegal mining.
It had also sought a court-monitored probe by a special investigation team or CBI into illegal mining in the state.