Criminal involvement of Yeddyurappa in mining scam: Santosh Hegde

By Fakir Balaji, IANS,

Bangalore : Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N. Santosh Hegde, whose “explosive” probe report into the multi-crore mining scam in Karnataka has led to a major crisis for BJP’s first government in south India, says the inquiry points to the criminal involvement of Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa as he also holds the mining portfolio.

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“The report has enough evidence on the criminality of others, as the scam led to theft of the state’s property. There is also an element of criminality on the part of the chief minister as he heads the mining department and is responsible for all acts of omission and commission in it,” Hegde told IANS in an interview here.

The interview was conducted at his office on Dr. Ambedkar Vedhi, adjacent to the Vidhana Soudha, the state assembly.

The quasi-judicial ombudsman office is to submit the voluminous report to the state government this week. Leakage of vital information, including key names, in the media has pushed the three-year-old first Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in south India to the brink.

“The final report is more damning than the first one, which was submitted to the government Dec 18, 2008 but no action taken on it till date. If the government fails to act even after this report is given, I am sure the Supreme Court will step in as it has taken cognisance of the first report under section 7(2) of the Lokayukta Act,” Hegde, whose five-year term ends Aug 2, asserted.

“Even the state governor (H.R. Bhardwaj) can legally direct the Lokayutka to take action against the chief minister and other ministers for their role (direct or indirect) in the siphoning off of the state’s rich mineral wealth and abuse of office by the stakeholders,” Hegde pointed out.

Besides Yeddyurappa, Revenue Minister G Karunakar Reddy, Infrastructure & Tourism Minister G. Janardhan Reddy, Health Minister B. Sriramulu and Housing Minister V. Somanna figure in the report along with Kumaraswamy, Congress Rajya Sabha member Anil Lad and BJP lawmaker Anand Singh as direct beneficiaries of the mining scam.

More than Yeddyurappa’s direct involvement in the illegal mining activity, it is his family, including his sons B.Y. Raghvendra and B.Y. Vijayendra and son-in-law R.N. Sohan Kumar that reaped windfall from the mining companies in the form of donations and kickbacks.

“As the chief minister holding the mining portfolio, Yeddyurappa cannot be absolved of the various charges as the state’s natural wealth was plundered through the mining department under his dispensation. There is enough evidence on how his family, including sons benefitted and profited during his three-year tenure from illegal mining activity,” Hegde clarified.

“This is not the first time this government has been indicted by my office, law courts and other statutory institutions. Though I have made exhaustive recommendations on how to stop illegal mining and other measures to protect the environment, forestry and the mineral wealth, nothing has been done. The government’s action taken report is a joke as it more about action to be taken than any action taken so far,” Hegde told IANS.

Noting that the state government had been claiming that it banned iron ore export since June 2010 and did not grant permits to mining firms since the BJP came to power in May 2008, Hegde said both activities have been going with impunity beyond the inquiry period (2000-2010), causing a whopping loss of Rs.1,827 crore to the exchequer over the last 14 months.

“We have to look into the illegal mining activity going on this year also despite the state’s claims to the contrary. We got umpteen documents to prove that illegal mining was continuing in Bellary district and the iron ore is exported from Krishnapatnam port in Andhra Pradesh,” Hegde noted.

Asked about the fate of his recommendations in the report after he demits office Aug 2, Hegde said if the state government doesn’t act, Lokayukta can invoke its suo mottu powers to prosecute the guilty officials and seek the governor’s nod to file charges against the ministers, legislators and lawmakers.

“I have not been able to get more powers from the state government to strengthen the ombudsman institution. We have succeeded in getting suo motto powers to prosecute up to the chief secretary but not their political bosses,” Hegde lamented.

Besides present and former ministers, politicians and lawmakers, about 500-600 officials were indicted for their criminal role in the massive scam.

“In the first report, I have analysed the wrongdoings happening from granting the lease to export of the ore. Out of 160 leases, 95 are active mines and the rest are abandoned. We have found licenses of the abandoned mines were being used for some illegal purposes. I have indicted 55 firms with evidence against them and asked the government to take action. I have also mentioned how at every stage there is a wrong doing and how it should be stopped,” Hegde observed.

Hegde, who was Supreme Court judge (1999-2005) and solicitor-general of India (1998-99), was asked to inquire into the large scale corruption and profiteering through illegal mining in the state, especially in the mineral rich Bellary district from 2000 to 2006 with the connivance of officials.

The inquiry was ordered by former chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in 2007 when he was heading the second short-lived coalition government in the state between Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) and BJP when he was accused of taking bribes worth Rs.150 crore from the mining barons in the state.

The probe period was extended up to 2010 by Yeddyurappa in response to vociferous demand by the opposition parties as rampant corruption, illegal mining and export of iron ore continued unabated.

(Fakir Balaji can be contacted at [email protected])