By Krishna N Das and Siddesh Mayenkar
NEW DELHI, April 5 India's Karnataka state
expects to reopen 19 iron ore mines this fiscal year, which were
shut by a court in 2011, increasing supplies to local steel
mills by 30 million tonnes, the head of its mines department
India used to produce 200 million tonnes of iron ore a year
and sell about half of that overseas before bans on production
aimed at curbing illegal mining in the states of Karnataka and
top producer Goa slowed production and exports to a trickle.
Nine mines have already restarted in Karnataka, which used
to produce about 50 million tonnes before the Supreme Court
imposed a ban on mining there nearly two years ago.
"(Another) eight to nine mines can be opened immediately
this month, provided the honourable Supreme Court allows that,"
said H.R. Srinivasa, director at Karnataka's department of mines
and geology. "A decision is expected this month."
Last September, the Supreme Court allowed the reopening of
18 mines of Karnataka's 170 total as long as operators fulfilled
reclamation and rehabilitation criteria. The court is expected
to add another 10 mines in the course of this year.
"Many companies are already working on reclamation and
rehabilitation," Srinivasa said, referring to court-mandated
steps such as building fort-like walls around the mines and
using rain water for sanitation.
Srinivasa heads the committee that recommends to the Supreme
Court which mines are fit to reopen.
The court may eventually allow a total of 120 mines in the
state to restart and shut the remaining 50 mines due to
illegalities, according to the Federation of Indian Mineral
Industries, which is also advising the top court.
With few exports from Karnataka and Goa, iron ore producers
such as Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP
Billiton have taken some of India's market
share in the export markets of China, Japan and South Korea.
In the fiscal year ended March 31, Karnataka sold about 20
million tonnes to domestic steelmakersm mainly from previous
years' stock to earn about 5.5 billion rupees ($100 million),
Indian steel companies have been operating below capacity
because of supply shortages due to the bans. JSW Steel Ltd
and Kalyani Steels Ltd are two steelmakers
that use iron ore from Karnataka.