New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to file a reply on a plea seeking the cancellation of 358 iron ore mining leases which were allocated, or their duration extended, without any fresh evaluation or by adopting the due auction process.
A bench of Justices S.A. Bobde and B.R. Gavai asked the government to file its response within four weeks.
Advocate Mahohar Lal Sharma, the petitioner, has also sought quashing of Section 8A of the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957.
The PIL said that Section 8A of the MMDR Act, 1957, which provides for grant of a mining lease for minerals other than coal, lignite and atomic minerals, was "illegal, arbitary and unconstitutional".
Section 8A, inserted by the MMDR amendment Act, "is a clear violation of Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution... (and) has created serious financial and other injuries to the general public at large...", the PIL said.
Sharma has contended that the extension of iron ore mining leases was in breach of the top court's 2012 verdict, according to which mines could be leased only after valuation and auction, and not for free. The court had said this while answering the Presidential reference on the allocation of natural resources.
The five-judge constitution bench of the apex court by its September 27, 2012 majority judgment had said that the auction could be a better option where the aim was maximisation of revenue, but then "every method other than auction of natural resources cannot be shut down".
Besides seeking a court-monitored probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the allocation or extension of mining leases, the petitioner also sought directions for the recovery of the market value of the mined iron ore.
The petitioner has sought direction "to quash the allotment/extension/continuation of more than 358 mines of iron ore and other minerals all over India, stating that the leases have been either granted or extended to the firms without any fresh evaluation or adopting the auction process".
Alleging conspiracy, the petitioner has also sought direction to the investigating agency to register an FIR and probe the allocation of iron ore mines without following the due procedure, thereby causing huge loss to the exchequer.
Seeking recovery of the losses caused to the public exchequer by the mining companies, the petitioner said that 358 mines leases, whose quashing he has sought, be put to auction.
Sharma has contended that the mining leases extended in 2014-2015 in return for alleged large donations has created a serious financial losses to the state exchequer to the tune of Rs 4 lakh crore.
In all, 288 of these mining leases have been extended till 2020 and the remaining 70 till 2030.