New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Union Steel Ministry to clarify its stand on a plea by miners from Karnataka, seeking a direction to lift the ban on iron ore export from the state.

A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana sought the Ministry’s reply on whether sufficient iron ore is available for the domestic market, and whether it is feasible to permit the export of iron ore mined from Karnataka?

“What is the stand of the Ministry of Steel? Is sufficient (iron ore) available in the domestic market, and will you support export (of iron ore)?” te Chief Justice asked Additional Solicitor General K.M. Nataraj, representing the Centre.

In April 2013, the top court imposed the ban on export of iron ore from Karnataka’s three districts and fixed the maximum permissible annual production limit.

The bench, also comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Hima Kohli, noted that the Mines Ministry has supported the demand of the miners, however petitioner NGO Samaj Parivartan Samudaya, represented by advocate Prashant Bhushan, has objected to it, claiming that the Steel Ministry has not made its stand so far.

Bhushan submitted that the Steel Ministry has maintained its stand that there is shortage of iron ore for the domestic steel industry, therefore its export should not be allowed.

The bench asked Nataraj to take a comprehensive view in the matter, as it sought response from the Steel Ministry.

Senior advocate Dushyant Dave, representing the miners, submitted that as per the existing regime, the buyers, which are steel companies, can import and domestic iron ore producers can do only e-auctions as he pointed at the need of foreign exchange.

He pressed that this banning of exports from Karnataka should be modified and there is no need for an affidavit from the Steel Ministry, and the ban should be lifted.

Dave’s submissions were supported by other senior advocates, including Mukul Rohatgi, representing the miners.

Counsel submitted the cap was placed ten years ago, as the apex court had found rampant illegal mining and also iron ore was being exported without fulfilling the domestic requirement. The senior advocates urged the bench to lift the ban, as the country needs foreign exchange. The bench noted that there is no restriction in other parts of the country on iron ore export.

The bench noted, “We also want the lifting of the ban. Now suppose, if we allow (to lift the ban), such a huge quantity will come into the market, what would be the situationa..”

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, appearing for Federation of Indian Mineral Industries’ southern chapter, cited the Mines Ministry and CEC affidavits as he urged the bench to modify its order and allow the export of iron ore extracted from Ballari, Chitradurga, and Tumakuru districts.

Bhushan said as per report by former Lokayukta, Justice Santosh Hegde, the ban was imposed because otherwise, all the reserves would run out, and added that natural resources must not be allowed to get exploited.

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for steel manufacturers body, said: “What we are saying there is iron ore on ground, why don’t put it for e-auction? If we don’t buy, then allow it for export.” (IANS)