The state has the final say over all mine allocation matters

Written by Indu Bhan | Indu Bhan | Updated: Aug 1 2012, 07:17am hrs
Jolt for private miners

Clearing the way for a grant of lease of iron ore mines to public sector undertakings (PSUs), excluding private firms, the Supreme Court has reiterated that the state is not only the owner of all mines and minerals but had the inherent right to reserve any area for the use of PSUs alone.

It dismissed the appeals of six steel makers, included listed players Monnet Ispat & Energy and Ispat Industries (now JSW Ispat Steel) challenging the Centres decision to reserve at least 6,400 acre iron ore bearing area in Ghatkuri, located in the Saranda forest of West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, for excavation by PSUs. The other companies are Adhunik Alloys and Power, Prakash Ispat, Jharkhand Ispat and Abhijeet Infrastructure.

Justifying the Jharkhand governments decision in declining the grant of leases to the private sector operators, and in reserving the areas for PSUs, it said that if the state government makes reservation in public interest with respect to minerals which vest in it for exploitation in public sector, we fail to see how such a reservation can be seen as impairing the obligation cast upon the Central government... No person has any fundamental right to claim that he should be granted mining lease or prospecting licence or be permitted reconnaissance operations in any land belonging to the government, it stated.

The mining companies had moved the Supreme Court against the state and the Central government for going back on promises made in initial investment agreements. They claimed that they have already gone ahead with investment plans on the assurance of securing iron ore leases.

The Centre in 1969 had reserved the 2,590 hectare (6,400 acre) patchestimated to contain as much as 3.7 billion tonnes of iron ore reservesfor mining exclusively by PSUs.

However, in 2006, the Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand government assured nine companies that they could undertake mining in the area and sent its recommendation to the Centre, which stuck to its decision that the area was reserved for PSUs.

Public purpose only in strictest sense

The Supreme Court has quashed the acquisition of land of two industrial units in Dehradun on the grounds that the Uttar Pradesh government could not justify the urgency for the action.

Setting aside an order of the Allahabad High Court, which had upheld the acquisition, the apex court in two cases led by Garg Woollen Pvt Ltd vs State of UP said that the state government had failed to produce any material to show that invoking of the urgency clause of the Land Acquisition Act for acquiring the land was bona fide. It said that the power to take over land on an urgent basis is an extraordinary power and such a provision can be invoked only when the purpose of acquisition cannot brook the delay of even a few weeks or months.

Invoking the urgency clause does not preclude a hearing to the land owner either, it said adding that the owner can challenge the acquisition on the ground that there was no public purpose involved and it was done mala fide or without application of mind. The government had argued that it wanted 250 acres for planned development of industrial area in Dehradun.

The companies, which claimed to have purchased the land in 1984 and set up their industrial units after availing huge loans, argued that there was no urgent need to acquire the land and the same was done without giving any opportunity to voice their objections.

Decontamination before dismantling

The Supreme Court has granted permission for controversial US ship Oriental Nicety, earlier known as Exxon Valdez, involved in one of the worst US oil spills off Alaska in 1986, to beach at Gujarat coast and permitted its owner to dismantle the vessel after complying with all the requirements of the Gujarat Maritime Board, the Gujarat Pollution Control Board and Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. However, it said that no ship in future would be allowed to be dismantled in India without the governments environmental clearance and the vessels decontamination as per the Basel Convention.

The implication of the order would be that all the ships that have entered or are entering Indian territorial waters have to show compliance of the Basel Convention, which mandates full decontamination of a ship before being allowed to be anchored at a ship breaking port.

Counsel Sanjay Parikh, appearing for the NGO Research Foundation, had earlier sought a ban on the entry of the foreign tanker on the grounds that it posed a serious threat to the lives and safety of people.

indu.bhan@expressindia.com