Supreme Court has allowed Tata Steel to continue mining activities at chromite mine in Sukinda, Odisha, till May 9.
The extension is crucial as the temporary working permit, granted in March 2013 by the ministry of environment and forest (MoEF) to operate the mine, was to expire on April 12 and the application for its extension is pending with the ministry.
While issuing notice to the Centre, the state government and others, a special forest Bench headed by Justice AK Patnaik told the Central Empowered Committee to file report by May 5, the next date of hearing.
The temporary working permit to operate 69.58 hectare of broken up forest land will stand extended up to May 9, the court ordered last week. The company had sought urgent and immediate relief to ensure that mining in Jajpur, which has the capacity to produce 2.4 million tonne (mt) of chrome ore every year, is not affected. Tata Steel said it had been operating the mine since 1952 and any disruption of the mining process would have a cascading effect.
The Sukinda chromite mine is spread over 406 hectares, including 106 acres of forest land. The lease validity for 20 years lapsed on January 11, 2013, which was extended for three months.
Stating that it had already complied with the nine conditions imposed by the assistant inspector general of forests, MoEF in March last year for grant of temporary working permit, Tata Steel said it had deposited around R5.38 crore towards net present value over the broken up forest area of 73.697 hectare in the state CAMPA account.
Besides, no fresh area has been broken and the work is confined to 69.687 hectare of broken up forest land located within the mining lease and no more felling of trees was taken up. The company further said it had got approvals from the state pollution board and other competent authorities to operate the mine.
The division forest officer on January 11, 2013, had told Tata Steel to stop mining in Sukinda in the absence of valid temporary working permit/forest clearance. The company had challenged the communications in the SC, which had on February 1 last year stayed the notice till the MoEF took a final decision on the basis of a forest advisory committee report recommending grant of temporary working permit to Tata Steel.