Environment minister Jairam Ramesh’s ban on mining projects in Bellary appears to have been violated by his own ministry, if the Karnataka government’s latest communication to the ministry is to be believed.
It comes on the heels of Ramesh admitting that ministry’s forest division changed an important rule without his consent to allegedly help Jindal Steel in evading ministry notice on violating environmental norms.
Now, H M Mallikarjuna Swamy, under secretary with the Karnataka’s Forest and Environment department, had accused the forest division of giving final approval to a mining company for operations in Bellary despite the ban and without state government’s approval.
The company Ramgad Minerals and Mining Private limited got final approval (stage-II) for diversion of 335 hectares of forestland in September, 2010 even though the state government had referred the earlier mining by the company in Bellary to Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hedge for investigation.
While imposing the ban, Ramesh had said that new mining projects in Bellary will not be considered till the state chief minister B S Yeddyurappa implements the Lokayukta’s report on illegal mining fully.
"There is a ban imposed on forest mining leases by the Government of India itself in Bellary district. This case cannot be treated on a different footing," Swamy said in a letter written on March 16, 2011.
The Karnataka government also accused the environment ministry of violating its own norms while giving approval. "The user agency (the company) is required to comply with various conditions stipulated in the in-principal approval (granted in 2006) of the Government of India, which are not been complied with," the letter said.
As per the rules of the Forest Conservation Act, under which the approval was given, the final approval cannot be granted until the conditions stipulated in the in-principle approval are met. The state government is required to submit a certificate stating that the stipulated conditions have been met and forestland can be diverted.
"The final approval granted by the MoEF (ministry of environment and forest) and section (2) of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, without reference to the state government is contrary to law," the letter said, while asking Ramesh’s ministry to cancel the final approval granted for iron ore mining in Bellary.