Karnataka mining report could trigger political explosion

By V.S. Karnic, IANS,

Bangalore : Karnataka seemed headed for prolonged instability Thursday and possible early elections with the Lokayukta revealing the involvement of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, the powerful Reddy brothers and politicians of the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) in illegal mining in the state.

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The report of ombudsman N. Santosh Hegde is yet to be submitted but his major findings were leaked to the media late Wednesday though he had said: “My officers have been working overtime but not in office and are not taking the help of stenographers to ensure complete secrecy of the report.”

The report, which will be submitted Friday, throws light on the nexus between the politicians-officials-businessmen in the rampant illegal mining and export of iron ore from Karnataka.

Hegde apologized for the leak but blamed tapping of his phone as the source and not his officers.

However, this has not cut ice with either the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or the Congress.

The BJP slammed the leak and wondered how it could have happened when Hegde was asserting he was maintaining “utmost secrecy”.

The Congress was apprehensive that the government may use the leak as a ruse to dump the report.

Yeddyurappa was away holidaying in Mauritius as the storm grew over Hegde’s conclusion that he has done precious little to curb illegal mining, allowed his sons’ business ventures and trusts to receive money from firms involved in illegal mining and refusing to drop the Reddy brothers from the ministry.

The chief minister is likely to return July 24.

H.D. Kumaraswamy, who was chief minister in the JD-S-BJP coalition in 2007-07, is held guilty of granting license to two firm for mining in violation of rules.

He promptly said that he was ready for a probe and would wait for the report to be made public.

Hegde also names Congress Rajya Sabha member and mining lord Anil Lad for involvement in illegal mining. He has denied the charge.

Despite the naming of their members, the Congress and the JD-S were quick to seize on Hegde’s findings and insisted that Yeddyurappa should quit immediately.

The Reddy brothers – Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy and his elder brother Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy – have been the most controversial mining barons and politicians in the state in the last five years.

Besides Anil Lad of the V.S. Lad group, the Congress also has brother Santosh Lad of the S. Lad group, as an assembly member.

Hegde had been maintaining that his report will be “explosive”.

The Congress and the JD-S, which have targeted Yeddyurappa with a series of corruption and illegal land deal charges, are confident the report will end his and his party’s rule.

Yeddyurappa is sure to go to jail once the Lokayukta report comes out, Congress and JD-S leaders have asserted for months.

Meanwhile, another controversy has raised its head.

Hegde last week revealed that senior BJP leader V. Dhananjaya Kumar, now the state’s special representative in New Delhi, had met him and requested him to spare Yeddyurappa.

Dhananjaya Kumar has denied Hegde’s claims, saying he had met the Lokayukta several months back but did not discuss any political issues.

Hegde has responded that he stands by every word.

As the political heat mounts, the talk is the BJP is getting ready to dissolve the assembly early next year and go for fresh elections a year ahead of schedule. The last polls were held in April-May 2008 and the assembly’s term is for five years.

The Congress and the JD-S too had meetings in Bangalore to pep their parties for possible early polls.

The JD-S said it is already finalising the list of its candidates and plans to release 100 names by early October. The assembly has 225 seats – 224 elected and one nominated.

The Congress, which is conducting a ‘Congress nadige, janara balige’ (Congress walk to reach out to people), has said it is always ready for elections.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at [email protected])