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| Last Updated:: 03/08/2017

SC imposes 100 percent penalty on mining companies without forest clearance






Mining companies in Odisha that were operating without environmental clearances were ordered to pay 100 per cent penalty on the price of illegally extracted iron and manganese ores with effect from 2000-01 by the Supreme Court on Wednesday. 




The bench comprising Justices Madan Lokur and Deepak Gupta directed the Centre to set up a panel of experts under the guidance of a retired apex court judge to identify the lapses over the years which enabled rampant illegal mining in the state and recommend preventive measures. The bench also urged the Centre to have a fresh look at the National. 




The companies have been directed to deposit the amount on or before December 31. Mineral Policy, 2008 which is almost a decade old, particularly with regard to conservation and mineral development. 




"We make it clear that minerals extracted either without environmental clearance or without forest clearance or without both will attract the provisions of section 21(5) of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957 and that 100 per cent of the price of the illegally or unlawfully mined mineral must be compensated by the mining lease holder," it said. 




Commenting that the immediate cause of concern was to stop unlawful activities, the bench denied advocate Prashant Bhushan's plea to direct the central probe agency to ascertain persons involved in the illegal mining activities. 




"For the present, we do not propose to direct an investigation or inquiry by the CBI for the reason that what is of immediate concern is to learn lessons from the past so that rapacious mining operations are not repeated in any other parts of the country. This can be achieved through the identification of lapses and finding solutions to the problems that are being faced," it said. 




The bench clarified that any mining activity carried out after January 7, 1998 without a forest clearance would amount to illegal or unlawful mining and would attract 100 per cent recovery of the price of the extracted mineral. 




The court then observed that the petitions filed before them suggested "a mining scandal of enormous proportions and one involving megabucks"."Lessees in the districts of Keonjhar, Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj in Odisha have rapaciously mined iron ore and manganese ore, apparently destroyed environment and forests and perhaps caused untold misery to tribals in the area. 




"However, to be fair to the lessees, they took steps to ameliorate the hardships of the tribals, but it appears to us that their contribution is perhaps not more than a drop in the ocean – also too little, too late," it said. 




The bench relied on a 2014 report prepared by the Central Empowered Committee (CEC) in which it stated that the total number of leases granted for mining iron and manganese ore was 187 in these three districts out of which 102 lease holders did not have requisite environment clearance under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 or approval under the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. 




The report also suggested that Odisha had issued notices to the mining companies for recovery of more than Rs 61,000 crore.