Bangalore: A new report on illegal mining in Karnataka pushes the BJP into emergency-care mode – it names the Chief Minister, BS Yeddyurappa, his family and four senior ministers in his government. The report has been prepared by the state’s Lokayukta or ombudsman, Santosh Hegde, who claims that it has been leaked after his phones were tapped.
Mr Hegde is to present in the next few days his 5,000-page report to the BJP government on the illegal export of iron-ore from Karnataka’s mines. However, most of the document’s politically explosive contents have been made public. The Lokayukta says that he asked a private firm to check on whether his phones were tapped, and then changed one of his numbers. (Watch: Lokayukta Hegde speaks to NDTV)
Mr Hegde did not elaborate on what he says against Mr Yeddyurappa in his report, but confirmed that he does refer to a trust, run by the Chief Minister’s family, receiving 10 crores from a mining company. Mr Yeddyurappa’s sons and son-in-law are also listed for selling land near the Bangalore airport at 20 times the market rate to a mining company – by implication, a kickback for the mining lease. (Read: Bellary – Mined over and over by Karnataka politicians)
Mr Yeddyurappa is also faulted for refusing to drop the Reddy brothers from his cabinet, despite their indictment in earlier inquiries on mining.
Janardhana and Karunakara Reddy are mining barons from Bellary and have reportedly been accused by Mr Hegde of accepting crores in kickbacks for sanctioning mining leases, and running benami or front companies that allowed them access to more mines than legally permissible.
“We are clean. We have no involvement whatsoever to this so called scam. Let the report be submitted first,” said G Karunakara Reddy, the Revenue Minister, to NDTV this morning.
The damning basics of the Hegde report include an estimate that the state has lost 1800 crores in the last 14 months through illegal mining. For the BJP, the revelations come just as it was getting ready to attack the union government over corruption in the monsoon session of parliament, which begins on August 1.
The party seemed more perturbed by the report being leaked than by its contents. ” “We will order an inquiry into this. It is a serious thing. How can the report get leaked?” said spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar. “Not at all, ” he replied When asked if it was a matter of shame for four ministers and the Chief minister to be named.
Mr Yeddyurappa is currently holidaying in Mauritius. Political opponents who have repeatedly accused him of corruption and nepotism have asked that he resign immediately. They include Opposition leader HD Kumaraswamy, who himself was accused of accepting kickbacks for mining contracts when he was Chief Minister before Mr Yeddyurappa.
Mr Kumaraswamy, who heads the Janata Dal (S), has also been mentioned in the Lokayukta’s new report for sanctioning leases out-of-turn to two mining companies. Mr Kumaraswamy told NDTV, “I am ready to quit as a Member of Parliament if charges against me are proved.” He says he is not worried about the new report’s reference to him, that he is faulted for a minor technicality, and that he will cooperate with any investigation.
Congress MP Anil Lad who owns VS Lad Mining Company and Canara Minerals has been named in the report too. The report calls his business in Tumkur completely illegal.
Mr Hegde has repeatedly said that politicians across party lines have shown signs of malpractice in their handling of the state’s rich mines. Two days ago, he told NDTV that “There is no political will to stop illegal mining, everybody’s finger is in the till.” This the second report filed by him; the first was presented in December 2008 and faulted Mr Yeddyurappa among others. The Chief Minister had rejected that report.
But the chorus of corruption charges against him has expanded into a full-blown opera over the last few months. Mr Yeddyurappa has been accused for example by Mr Kumaraswamy of repeatedly gifting valuable public land to companies owned by his children and their spouses. He cancelled some of these deals after they were reported in the media.
Recently, senior party leader LK Advani said he was worried about the BJP’s state of affairs in Karnataka. BJP president Nitin Gadkari, however, was far more relaxed in his stand -he said in an interview to NDTV in June that Mr Yeddyurappa was delivering good governance and the results of by-elections in Karnataka proved that he had the people’s support.