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Concerns as govt eyes body restoring mining-hit areas in Karnataka

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Concerns as govt eyes body restoring mining-hit areas in Karnataka
A representative picture of an area affected by mining

Bengaluru: The government is attempting to impose less transparent control on the Karnataka Mining Environment Restoration Corporation (KMERC), which is sitting on Rs 25,000 crore in funding intended for mining-ravaged districts, following contentious attempts to seize control of the organisation.

The job of rebuilding and repairing the mining-affected districts of Ballari, Vijayanagara, Tumakuru, and Chitradurga falls on the KMERC, a special purpose vehicle (SPV).

The administration attempted in vain last year to reorganise the board’s composition by designating district ministers as members and the chief minister as its head. The plan was abandoned as a result of protests from the activists and guidance from higher officials.

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But in recent months, efforts to modify some of the foundational tenets of KMERC have prompted activists to write to Justice (retd) B Sudershan Reddy, the Supreme Court-appointed oversight authority (OA), demanding that the government’s proposed projects comply with the Comprehensive Environment Plan for the Mining Impact Zone (CEPMIZ).

According to records received through a request for public information (RTI), the KMERC Board agreed on December 27, 2023, to “discontinue” the practice of posting OA-approved projects on the KMERC website for 15 days before informing the relevant departments of the approval. Rather, the consent to the relevant departments. The minutes stated that instead, as soon as the OA has been approved, the approval communication for the project implementation should be forwarded to the relevant department.

The action strikes at the fundamental idea of transparency, according to activist S R Hiremath of Samaj Parivartana Samudaya. In the second case, the KMERC board questioned OA’s choice to name retired IAS officer V Balasubrama as an adviser during the meeting on March 12. The chairwoman of the Board inquired as to whether the SC order had a clause allowing for the nomination of such people, as per the minutes of the meeting.

The OA may now seek help from one or two State of Karnataka officers and/or retired judge(s) of a High Court of his choosing, the court has permitted. However, the board stated that the directive did not state that retired officials may be hired. The board countered that the order is silent on the hiring of retired officials.

The SC order makes no mention of retired state officers being taken. The minutes further stated that the chief secretary’s circular and the Karnataka chief minister’s directive prohibit the appointment of retired officers.

Shalini Rajneesh, Additional Chief Secretary and Development Commissioner, responded to a question by saying the worries were unfounded.

The managing director was unresponsive to DH. A top official did, however, confirm the news.

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