Expressing shock at the magnitude of the alleged illegal export of 35 lakh metric tons (MTs) of iron ore by private firms in Karnataka, the Supreme Court today said it wants to explore the possibility if the guilty could be punished within six months.
A three-judge forest bench headed by Justice Aftab Alam asked the Central Empowered Committee(CEC) to suggest viable alternatives to ensure that those involved in illegal mining are convicted within six months and posted the matter for further hearing on September 7.
"Assuming there is a CBI probe, it will take months or years to complete the probe. They will be examining hundreds of witnesses and placing tons of material. But we want the investigation to be completed within six months.
"Let us have some results. See if these cases can be segregated. So far the charge sheet filed in some cases are under Section 379 (punishment for theft) and 406 (criminal breach of trust) of the IPC. The whole thing seems to be an eye-wash," said the bench, also comprising K S Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar.
The apex court turned furious after senior counsel and amicus curiae Shyam Divan informed it that eight lakh out of the 35 lakh MTs of iron ore were actually seized by the authorities and kept in custody as per the orders of a judicial magistrate, yet the seized consignments were exported out of the country.
Citing the CEC report, Divan termed the loss to the exchequer as "huge and enormous" and the illegal export of the huge consignment as "the rarest of rare" in the annals of the country.
"If the state machinery were working properly without turning a blind eye, all this would not have happened. See the magnitude," the apex court remarked while dealing with NGO Samaj Parivartana Samudaya's PIL on illegal mining and encroachment in the forest areas of the state.