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Land scams snare Karnataka bigwigs

By V.S. Karnic, IANS,

Bangalore : Karnataka Lokayukta Shivaraj V. Patil’s resignation following a row over acquiring two housing plots in land-scarce Bangalore is likely to give a fresh lease of life to a dumped official report on land grabbing in the state.

The report, by retired additional chief secretary of Karnataka V. Balasubramanian, has concluded that over 1.2 million acres of public land, including 40,000 acres in Bangalore, have been encroached in the state.

The Balasubramanian panel, set up in 2009 by the then B.S. Yeddyurappa government, submitted the report in the first week of July this year.

Its findings were rejected by the Yeddyurappa government on the ground that its contents were made public before the government could study it.

However, as land scandals are mounting in the state, the new chief minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda, who succeeded Yeddyurappa Aug 4, is under pressure from Governor H.R. Bhardwaj to act on the report.

“I have advised the chief minister to act on the report. He has promised to look into it,” Bhardwaj has been saying often after the row – over Patil’s acquisition of two sites from two housing societies in Bangalore even though he already owned a house in city – erupted, leading to his resignation.

Gowda has twice denied that Bhardwaj had raised the panel’s findings with him. However, he has promised to set up a group of senior officials to study the report and give its views to him.

While Patil quit office Sep 20, just a month-and-a-half after taking over as Lokayukta, two former chief ministers, a Lok Sabha member, three legislators are busy attending courts to fight cases of illegal land dealing against them.

The former chief ministers are Yeddyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party and H.D. Kumaraswamy of Janata Dal-Secular. The Lok Sabha member is B.Y. Raghavendra, who is Yeddyurappa’s son and belongs to the BJP. The legislators are Kumaraswamy’s wife Anita of the JD-S and Hemchandra Sagar and S.N. Krishnaiah Shetty, both of the BJP.

C.P. Yogeshwar, forest minister in the Sadananda Gowda cabinet, may even have to quit over charges of cheating scores of people with promise of house sites.

The Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) of the central corporate affairs ministry has completed the probe into Yogeshwar’s role in the Mega City project he had floated to offer house sites on Bangalore’s outskirts.

“I have not seen the full report of the SFIO, but it is serious,” says union Corporate Affairs Minister M. Veerappa Moily.

Yogeshwar has denied cheating scores of people of million of rupees.

Bhardwaj has been saying he cannot act against Yogeshwar on his own.

The governor has been telling the media, “It is for the chief minister to act. If he sends any paper (regarding Yogeshwar) to me, I will look into it and act.”

Gowda may act on Yogeshwar sooner or later once the SFIO sends its report to him, though seeking his resignation would pit him against Yeddyurappa. Yogeshwar had been promised a ministership by Yeddyurappa because he ‘defected’ to the BJP from the Congress.

Gowda himself is also caught in a land row of sorts. He has been accused of merging his house site with that of another BJP leader in Bangalore to erect a massive structure violating norms.

Gowda has denied violation but has fallen back on the usual refrain of politicos: “Law will take its own course.”

He will, however, be hoping that the law will not catch him on the wrong side for the next 20 months when his term as chief minister ends.