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Explain mining policy: SC

New Delhi, Dec. 6: The Supreme Court today asked the government to clarify whether mining as a policy was banned in reserved areas in forests as such a stand had “important consequences” for the country’s economy and social life.

The directive to file a comprehensive affidavit came after senior counsel K.K. Venugopal, who appeared for the Odisha Mineral Development Corporation, contended that any such prohibition would have a “far-reaching implication” for the entire country.

The Centre had in August 2010 halted the Sterlite-Vedanta Group’s operations in Odisha’s Niyamgiri Hills citing violation of forest and environment laws, despite protests from the company which claimed to have already invested over Rs 45,000 crore in the project.

The special forest bench of Chief Justice Altamas Kabir and Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar asked solicitor-general Rohinton Nariman to explain the Centre’s stand with reference to Section 6 of the Scheduled Tribe and other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forests Rights) Act, 2006, which prohibits mining or any commercial activity in reserved areas occupied by tribals.

Nariman said the act strictly prohibited eviction of dwellers and hence there was no justification for the Vedanta Group to carry out operations.

Senior counsel A. Sundaram, who appeared for the Odisha government, submitted that the project could be taken up after paying due compensation to displaced persons. He insisted there was no habitation in the hills where prospecting was being carried out.

The court was initially not inclined to accept the submission of the Odisha government. But after Venugopal’s intervention, it directed the Centre to explain the application of the Mines and Minerals (Regulation)Act with regard to Section 6 of the 2006 act, as any decision was likely to have “important consequences on the country’s economy and social life”.

“We, therefore, direct the Union of India to file the same,” the bench said, posting the matter for further hearing to January 11.