Karnataka:Lokayukta, Mining Mafia and Industrialisation
More than the resignation of Santosh Hegde Lokayukta of Karnataka, the developments subsequent to it have caused many skeletons to tumble out of the state’s political cupboard. The whole episode that unfolded has once again highlighted the mining mafia’s octopus grip in the entire state politics.
The resignation of the Lokayukta, the huge furore raised by opposition parties on the floor of the state assembly and the snowballing resentment among the people against the mining mafia in the government could not embarrass the “value-based” BJP’s central and state leadership. The RSS, the ideological leadership of BJP, is conspicuously keeping mum while Sushma Swaraj is on her way to Bellary to defend the infamous mining mafia in a convention in order to mobilise public opinion in its favour. The Chief Minister has given a clean chit to the Reddy Brothers – showing that the BJP is planning to brazen out all investigations, probes and court cases against these two mafia BJP MLAs.
The assembly was witness to rival political groups to the point nearly coming to blows. All opposition MLAs belonging to both JD(S) and the Congress indulged in a political theatrics by staying overnight at the precincts of the Vidhana Soudha for five days to back their demand of CBI enquiry, determined to make the most of the big political opportunity to embarrass the government.
Unfazed, the ruling BJP comfortably passed all the bills and adjourned the house sine die. Now, the Congress is planning a two-week long padayatra from Bangalore to Bellary while the JD(S) is also planning similar programme up to Bellary.
The entire state machinery - right from the Prime Minister to the lower echelons of power - is maintaining silence because mafias belong not only to BJP but also to every other dominant ruling class party. In fact, the so-called ‘transport permit’ that has been harnessed to the hilt to transport lakhs and lakhs of metric tonnes of illegal iron ore to the ports was introduced by none other than the Congress government while it was in power in the state a few years ago. The Reddy Brothers have already exposed the list of Congress leaders (like Congress MP Anil Lad and MLA Santosh Lad) who have been long involved in illegal mining business in the region, and have expressed willingness to furnish documentary proof to the Lokayukta to start a fresh probe!
Shifting Borders and Vanishing Villages
The Reddy Brothers have coolly claimed that they do not even mine an inch of land in Karnataka and that their mining interest is limited only to Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh. They were able to make this claim because the SoI, directed by the Supreme Court to conduct a survey to determine state borders between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, spinelessly failed to determine the border, and even issued a prompt and intriguing certificate absolving the Reddy Brothers of encroachment! How could the question of whether or not encroachment by the OMC had taken place be decided before the borders were determined?! To give a clean chit to Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC) owned by Reddy Brothers, without actually deciding the border issue, (when the accusation itself is that of shifting and erasing state borders) raises questions about the integrity of the survey undertaken by it.
Generally in mining districts, particularly in the entire Bellary-Anantapur region, many villages have disappeared and new villages and names have suddenly cropped up. There are talks of border posts moving from one place to another depending on the visit of various teams of officials and according to the convenience of mining mafia. The topo sheets do not match with actual land records. One fine morning, an ancient temple in the border, a crucial landmark for identification, vanished into thin air. The real configuration does not match with any of the original records of various periods – British, post-British, 1970s, etc. The Karnataka Lokayukta says that they can unearth the real border as they have all resources, but they have not been made party to the Supreme Court case that deals with cases related to OMC and Reddy Brothers. A clause related to forest clearance says that the mining operations are deemed to be cancelled/stopped if, for whatever reasons, the borders are altered, if the boundaries are illegible and if the border points are damaged due to mining excavations. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has ordered otherwise and has kept the credibility of the institution at stake.
The Nexus of Business, Politics and Bureaucracy
The Lokayukta report, Part I, on illegal mining in Karnataka, mainly in Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur districts, has provided a graphic account of illegal mining and its innovative methods to circumvent laws. It has openly accused flouting of all norms by the mining mafia, right from encroachment of mining areas, storage of mined ores, capacity allowed for transportation for each truck, the mode of transportation, fake permits, non-functional check posts to the collusion with port authorities and customs officials. It has also openly said that such a blatant violation of all norms at all levels cannot be done so easily without patronage at higher levels that includes ministers, politicians and officials in Mines Bureau, Forest, Revenue and various other related departments. It has also talked about inhuman and intolerable pollution caused to water bodies, roads and the habitations around.
Raising Contract – A Tool of Mafiadom
Raising Contract, an illegal method, is widely prevalent to operate benami in illegal mining operations. Most of the original, official owners and lease holders of mining land enter into contract with others who actually engage in mining operations and pay royalty to them. There are talks in Bellary that with the China boom, no licence holder dared to mine on his own, even if interested, fearing the mining mafia. The mafia undertakes actual mining operations through the method of raising contracts. These contracts are entered into with all and sundry names and the actual mafia may not come into picture at all while they enjoy all benefits and exercise all controls. More than 70% of mining leases awarded to others are actually taken over by the mafia without any legal document or obligations. In such a situation, any one like the Reddy Brothers and Lads can very well claim official ignorance as the system of deception is already in place.
Illegal Surpassing the Legal
The illegal export of iron ore from Karnataka has reached alarming proportions in the last seven years. More than 30 million tonnes of illegally mined iron ore from the state has been exported from various ports across the country. In the last year (2009-2010) alone, illegal exports were to the tune of 71 lakhs (71,27,937) of metric tonnes, a growth of over 110% than the previous year. Ironically, there was a drop of 20.7% in the legally permitted export of iron ore in the same period. Yeddyurappa himself has ‘proudly’ claimed in the floors of the assembly that export of illegally mined iron ore has surpassed the legally mined ones in the last seven years. He unashamedly admitted that there is a mafia behind illegal mining and that fake permits are widely prevalent everywhere. He estimated the illegal export of iron ore to the tune of Rs.50,000 crores in the last seven years.
The worst case is the recent export of around 5 lakh metric tonnes of iron ore stored at Belekere and Karwar ports. Based on the direction of the Lokayukta, the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Mr Gokul, a rare honest officer, seized illegally mined iron ore to the tune of around 8 lakh metric tonnes. It was stored at Belekere and Karwar ports under the custody of port authorities. There were claimants with valid document only for 3 lakh metric tonnes of iron ore under the court direction. The rest of the seized iron ore to the tune of 5 lakh metric tonnes disappeared from the storage point. By implication, disappearance means illegal export of seized, illegally mined iron ore to other countries through same ports. This has happened in connivance with port authorities and customs officials.
Punishment by the Mafiadom
As a rule, seizing illegally mined iron ore means putting one’s life at stake. For mafias, it is only the super profit and lucrative money that matters and not the lives, rules and the laws. The official who took all the risk and seized the illegally mined ore was suspended by a BJP Minister. The officer, who was suspended for the fault of the seizure of illegally mined iron ore, approached the Lokayukta for protection and the Lokayukta was helpless. The latter approached the Chief Minister Yeddyurappa in order to save the honest officer who acted based on his directions. But, Yeddyurappa told him not to interfere in administrative matters. This was the incident that triggered the resignation of the Lokayukta.
The Lokayukta had other demands too, like suo motu powers to investigate cases on his own, appointment of Upa-Lokayukta and allowing the Lokayuka institution to carry cases to its logical conclusion. For example, in many cases, the corrupt officials who were suspended based on his recommendation were reinstated because of political considerations, thus mocking his investigation and anti-corruption campaign. The recent amendment to Lokayukta Act has given suo moto powers to the Lokayukta but it is restricted only to investigating corruption among bureaucrats and not extended to elected representatives including MLAs, MPs, chairmen of boards and ministers. The government is keen to save its own skin by not subjecting itself to investigation of graft in its ranks. Any watchdog body on corruption cannot be meaningful if elected representatives are kept out of its purview. In fact, in many cases, including illegal mining, it is the elected representatives to the level of ministers who are the fountainhead of corruption in public life. The people would have appreciated it if the Lokayukta raised the demand of including investigation of elected representatives under its purview.
Heeding Advani - An Anticlimax
The people of the entire state and democrats respected the honesty and integrity that Hegde had maintained during his tenure as Lokayukta, and wanted him to withdraw his resignation and continue his crusade against corruption while pressurizing the government to heed to his demands. There were other quarters too, that echoed similar demands because of different political reasons right from the Home Minister to the Governor. But, unfortunately the Lokayukta stated that he withdrew the resignation at the behest of ‘father figure’ L K Advani – a friend of his father’s (who had been the Vice-President of the BJP and former speaker of the Lok Sabha). In an interview Hedge also openly admitted that he would probably be in the BJP were he not a Lokayukta. Such a statement is unbecoming of a Lokayukta, but it serves to show us that the Lokayukta is very much a part of the system he claims to fight against.
The Lokayukta has also undermined his crusade against corruption by going on record against nationalization of mines and mining activities. It is all too clear that illegal mining cannot be eliminated as long as mining is not nationalized. Nationalisation is not a panacea, but it is at least a point of departure.
Karnataka – Stolen by the Steel Giants
Recently, the BJP government and Yeddyurappa are talking about ban on export to be the solution against illegal mining and export. The government has started articulating this demand mainly after the Global Investors Meet (GIM) at Bangalore recently. Now, the global players have shifted their base to Bellary and Karnataka. Out of 400 proposals for signing MOUs in the GIM, more than 100 were related to mining and steel plants. MOUs are signed with Arcelor Mittal for 30,000 crore steel plant. Mittal has already deposited around 270 crores to start acquisition of land. Haveri district is being handed over to POSCO. Bellary is being divided between Mittal and Reddys. Ruia is expanding his plant capacity in Bagalkot to produce an extra 6 million tonnes per annum. Japan and Korean companies are also waiting on the wings. Outsmarting the Mittals, the Reddy Brothers have entered into an MOU for 36,000 crore steel plant at Bellary. The industries minister has already issued orders to acquire more than 50,000 acres of land for the purpose. More than a lakh acres of land are expected to be acquired in the near future to accommodate the steel giants in Karnataka. In such a situation, exporting iron ore may result in shortage for the domestic demand. Hence, the demand to ban iron ore export is very much within the BJP’s pro-corporate and pro-MNC framework of industrialization, and is not in any way intended to combat the gross illegalities and stranglehold of the mining mafia. Until and unless mining policy is de-linked from the interests of private profiteering and brought in line with democratic processes right down to local decision-making and with environmental and livelihood concerns, no clean up of the mining sector can be feasible or credible.
The Karnataka Lokayukta report has served to further take the lid off the ugly underbelly of illegal mining. The ruling class would like its role of faithful servant of corporate interests to remain masked in the guise of ‘national interest’. The likes of Kodas and Reddys threaten to rip apart that veneer and expose the naked edifice of loot that unites the rulers and the mining mafia. The time is ripe to intensify the campaign against the corporate loot of our country’s resources and against the stranglehold of the mining mafia on the processes of governance.