The 25,228-page report of the Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde on illegal mining in the state has, as expected, stirred the political establishment from its usual torpor.
Chief minister BS Yeddyuruppa is on his way out and the axe may soon fall on the all-powerful Brothers Bellary — tourism, culture and infrastructure development minister G Janardhan Reddy and revenue minister G Karunakar Reddy — and their close associate and health minister B Sriramulu. This was a cosy club and all four of them have been indicted in the lokayukta report. Among other things, the report holds
Mr Yeddyurappa responsible for his ‘failure’ to curb illegal mining and for supporting corrupt ministers, especially the Reddy brothers.
Moreover, the investigators found that a private company paid Rs 20 crore for a piece of land to a member of the chief minister’s family, an amount far above the land’s actual value of Rs 1.4 crore. Later, the company was given a mining lease. While such deals and preferential treatment for a particular company directly implicate the chief minister, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Apart from Mr Yeddyurappa and his four Cabinet colleagues, the report names 787 government officials, ranging from senior Indian Administrative Service and Indian Forest Service officers, to lowly clerks. Thanks to the open loot they indulged in, the state exchequer suffered a loss of estimated R16,085 crore during the period under investigation (2006-10).
Illegal mining is not new and it isn’t restricted to a particular state or region of the country. The modus operandi in this high-stake business whether in Goa, Chhattisgarh or Orissa is more or less the same: most companies don’t stick to their lease areas and often bribe officials to extend operations beyond the legal area, which can even include no-go reserve forests. Of course, these ‘extra’ areas are not accounted for when the tax is calculated. To give their activities a ‘legal’ sheen, the mineral mined from these ‘off-limit’ areas are usually taken to the legal areas and then transported to the port or factory.
In Karnataka, the lokayukta has found over 100 mining companies involved in such activities. In Bellary itself, old permits of ‘exhausted’ mines are used to carry on mining. Even transport permits with fudged dates are used for transporting minerals to the ports. Obviously, all this is not possible without political and administrative patronage.
Asked what his message would be today for the political class, Mr Hegde said, “At the end of the road maybe you can find yourself in difficulty.” A bigger clean-up job may have just begun.