BJP’s silence on Karnataka’s murky mining mess

India’s “party with a difference” is in the dock over the resignation of Karnataka’s Lok Ayukta Justice N Santosh Hegde over the mining racket in the state. Although the Lok Ayukta has withdrawn his resignation, the episode has again displayed that no party in India is free from corruption.

Between November 2009 and February 2010, around 35 lakh tonnes iron ore was illegally transported out of Karnataka, and nobody even knows where it went to. According to Hegde, the iron ore was smuggled through seven check-posts without the knowledge of mining & geology and forests officials. Sound’s strange, and what is more interesting is the fact that both the departments are under the Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa.

One of the important reason behind the Lok Ayukta’s resignation was the attempt by the state government to hush-up the entire matter. A state government minister recommended suspension of a Deputy Conservator of Forests who seized some of the unauthorised iron ore and filed an FIR against 11 exporters and Belekeri port officials. Instead of initiating an inquiry into the entire scam and taking action against the guilty, an honest officer was targeted.

The Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) has a lot to answer to the people about its partnership with mining mafia in Karnataka. This is not the first time that questions have been raised about the Karnataka government’s inaction against the mining mafia in the state. Canary Trap has previously highlighted the Lok Ayukta’s report on illegal mining in the state. The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), appointed by the Supreme Court of India, has already exposed the involvement of some of the state government ministers in carrying out large-scale illegal mining.

Illegal mining

G Janardhan Reddy (State Tourism Minister) and G Karunakar Reddy (State Revenue Minister), the Bellary mining barons, have been named in the CEC report for their involvement in illegal mining, encroaching into forest land, and illegally shipping out iron ore from the state. The Bellary Reddy’s own the Obulapuram Mining Company Private Ltd (OMC).

OMC is engaged in the mining activity in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, across Karnataka state border of Bellary district.

The CEC report states that the OMC has encroached the forest area of Karnataka, undertaken illegal mining activity, and transported iron ore.

“The OMC has encroached in mineral rich areas outside their mining leases and is carrying out large-scale illegal mining in unalloted Reserved Forest areas,” the OMC report stated.

“The OMC have also, after destroyed the boundary pillars, encroached on the forest land located between the State of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka,” the report further states.

Relations with YSR

Initially, the Congress government of Andhra Pradesh gave a clean-chit to the Reddy’s. The stand taken by the AP government came under criticism from the CEC which stated that “the objectivity, fairness and impartiality which is expected from a state government is shockingly lacking here and does not inspire confidence.”

Interestingly, the Bellary Reddy’s had a good equation with the late Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy and also with his son Jagan Mohan Reddy. They have invested around Rs 20000 crores into a steel plant at Pulivendala in Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh (YSR’s home district) by entering into an agreement with the AP government in May 2007.

It was only after the death of YSR that the Congress government started getting tough with the Bellary Reddy’s.

Now, coming back to the Lok Ayukta’s resignation. Santosh Hegde has withdrawn his resignation after BJP President Nitin Gadkari and Karnataka CM Yeddyurappa met him. Senior BJP leader L K Advani also appealed to him to withdraw his resignation. But does that mean the mining mess in Karnataka will be over?

Thayi’s advice

The Bellary Reddy’s, who are accused of being involved in illegal mining and transportation of iron ore by none other than the CEC of the Supreme Court of India, are still holding ministerial portfolios in the BJP government.

The BJP’s dependence on them was exposed during the political drama when they demanded the removal of the present CM Yeddyurappa last year. The dispute was resolved then and the Reddy brothers gave the credit for it to the BJP’s Leader of Opposition in the Parliament, Sushma Swaraj.

“We have agreed to the advice of our ‘thayi’,” G Janardhan Reddy had said.

Thayi means mother in Kannada. The Reddy duo have declared publicly that Swaraj is like a mother to them. Interestingly, Swaraj’s husband, Swaraj Kaushal, has been appointed as standing counsel of the Karnataka government in the Supreme Court of India.

With the Karnataka government promising action against the mining mafia, would ‘papa’ Kaushal be loyal to the government or to his wife’s children when he represents the state in the illegal mining case in the Supreme Court? It is also not clear whether Kaushal’s appointment was a pre-condition for truce between the beleaguered  and hapless Yeddyurappa and the Reddy brothers.

Keep logging on to Canary Trap. We will bring you exclusive details about the sudden rise of Bellary Reddy’s in the next post.