The Andhra Pradesh government has told the Supreme Court that it has no objection in resuming iron ore mining in Ballari reserve forest area that was banned in 2010 over alleged violations, including encroachment of the forest land, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday.
The matter will be heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The Obulapuram Mining Company, owned by former Karnataka minister Gali Janardhan Reddy, has sought the Supreme Court’s permission to resume mining activities in the region. The firm submitted that the boundary dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka that resulted in mining to stop is now resolved.
Ballari district is located on the border between Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
In March 2020, the Supreme Court had suspended mining in the Andhra Pradesh’s Anantapur district based on the report submitted by a Central Empowered Committee, reported The Indian Express. The committee had recommended that companies guilty of mining outside the lease areas should be allowed to resume mining but had to pay an exorbitant amount as penalty.
In 2011, Reddy was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation on charges of illegal mining. His firm, the Obulapuram Mining Company, is accused of changing mining lease boundary markings and engaging in illegal mining in the Ballari reserve forest region.
After 11 years since the ban on mining, both Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh governments told the Supreme Court on July 22 that they have accepted the report of the surveyor general of India on demarcating the boundaries between the two states.
Subsequently, at the same hearing, the counsel representing the Andhra government told the court that it has “no objection to mining activities being carried out within its demarcated area”.
With this shift in the state’s stand, officials who worked on the case of illegal mining have expressed their dissatisfaction, reported The Indian Express.
“Since the permanent pillars and rocks marking the state boundary were removed to encroach on forest land, it was necessary to first determine the interstate line before demarcating individual leases, quantifying encroachments and fixing accountability,” said an unidentified forest official who served in Anantapur district. “This is supposed to be the beginning [of that process] and not a closure.”
A senior official of the Andhra Pradesh mining department said that many companies transported illegally mined iron ore from Karnataka’s Ballari to mines in the neighbouring state’s Anantapur. Forest roads were used to dispatch these consignments that were finally shipped out from one of the ports.
“The modus operandi was clear to us,” the official added, reported The Indian Express. “Even the SC said that material extracted by at least two companies was routed through OMC and asked the CBI [in September 2011] to probe the links.”
The official said that the Andhra government should follow the course taken by Karnataka on the matter, instead of resuming “business as usual”.
“There [in Karnataka], each lease was scrutinised before placing it in one of the three categories based on the extent of illegalities found,” he added. “While the worst offenders were barred, others were allowed to resume mining after making amends and a production ceiling was set to prevent over-extraction.”