Bangalore, July18, 2011: The State government’s claim of having initiated reforms to curb illegal mining does not stand scrutiny, when one compares the steps taken by the State on the recommendations made by Lokayukta Santosh Hegde in his interim report.
The mismatch is apparent. While the Lokayukta in his report submitted in December 2008 pointed out several shortcomings, illegalities and irregularities in mining business, and had recommended specific corrective measures, the state government’s reform initiatives have been only general in nature.
Justice Hegde in his report dealt with illegality and irregularities in grant of mining leases, protection of forest land from illegal mining, grant of stockyard licence, illegality in transportation of minerals and spelt out measures to curb damage done to environment and water bodies during ore transportation.
Morever, the report had named the leases where illegal mining or encroachment of forest land had taken place and had recommended the immediate cancellation of their licences.
Above all, Justice Hegde had held former chief minister N Dharam Singh, two former directors of the department of mines and geology, M Basappa Reddy and Gangaram Baderiya, of having committed misconduct and having caused financial loss to the tune of
Rs 31.01 crore by permitting illegal transportation of iron ore.
The Lokayukta had held that the persons were liable for reimbursement of the loss caused to the state. He had also made a separate recommendation under Section 12(3) of the Karnataka Lokayukta Act to initiate appropriate proceedings against Singh to recover the loss caused by him to the state.
That’s not all. The Lokayukta had named nine senior officials including five IAS officers and an IPS officer for causing loss to Mysore Minerals Limited (MML) and had recommended recovery and disciplinary action against them.
Two and half years down the line, the government is yet to initiate action against any of them.
On its part, the state government went to the town listing out “reforms” to curb illegal mining as one of its major achievements. It has also often said that its hands are tied because many mining related cases are pending before court.
A new mining policy was launched, under which issue of fresh leases and renewals in respect of iron ore are allowed only if there is value addition within the State.
But the Belekeri port incident last year indicated that the reform measures had not yielded the desired results. Forest officials seized eight lakh metric tonne of iron ore being illegally transported. Five lakh tonne of this ore, stored at Belekeri port went missing. The CID is investigating the case.
Embarrassed to the core, the government had to take some steps. It banned export of iron ore and also streamlined the issue of transport permits.
Integrated check-posts were introduced in various locations to ensure better coordination of departments like mining, forest, commercial taxes, transport and PWD.
The government also discontinued issue of permits to ore traders to set up stockyard.
The issue also reached the Supreme Court with the Samaj Parivarthan Samudaya filing a petition regarding the alleged illegal mining and other related activities in forest areas.
The Forest Bench of the Supreme Court referred the matter to the Central Empowered Committee (CEC).
The CEC, after several visits to the State, slammed the state government for allowing illegal mining and not acting on the recommendations of the Lokayukta. The panel recommended revocation of mining leases and environmental clearances granted to the indicted mining companies.
An observation by the CEC in its report sums it all. “After filing the report of the Lokayukta, practically for two and a half years, no effective action has been taken by the state of Karnataka ......It has taken more than two and half years for even seeking legal opinion.... This is simply not acceptable and indicates the the extent to which the rot has set in and vested interest have a hold on the government,” the CEC stated in its report.
All eyes on the Lokayukta
A powerful storm with a potential to create upheavals in the State politics seems set to brew in a week’s time when Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde is likely to submit his final report on the illegal mining issue to the State government.
The report, covering the sordid saga of illegal mining between 2000 and 2010, is likely to drop names of high and mighty of the State politics. It has already begun creating ripples in the political circles with Justice Hegde charging the ruling party’s spokesman of trying to persuade him to not name Yeddyurappa in his report.
The shocking revelation is seen as a hint at the possibility of the Lokayukta indicting the Chief Minister, although the BJP has been arguing that Yeddyurappa has no stakes in mining. Hegde too has not indicated anything to this effect.
It is not just the ruling party that will be in trouble. The report is sure to throw light on the doings of the mining companies during the S M Krishna regime - 1999-2004 and the Dharam Singh-headed coalition government between 2004-2006 as also the H D Kumaraswamy-headed coalition government between 2006-07.
All these past chief ministers and Yeddyurappa, have been accused of taking steps that either directly or indirectly facilitated looting of mineral wealth. But more than anybody, it is Yeddyurappa who is going to be confronted with embarassing questions because he is in power and has three men widely believed to be the beneficiaries of illegal mining - the Reddy brothers and B Sreeramulu.
Going by Yeddyurappa’s past actions including the manner in which he treated the interim report, the final report may only serve as a tool for political parties to launch attack and counter-attack.
Will he take action against persons named in the report? At best, a debate may start on whether the Lokayukta report is binding on the government. The Lokayukta has no powers to prosecute. It will be up to the government to take action against the law breakers. When a statutory body like the Lokayukta submits a report, it becomes the bounden duty of the government to accept and act. In case of the Justice Padamaraj Committee on fees for professional courses and the task force report on land encroachments, the government did not even acknowledge the reports, let alone take action.
Sources in the ruling party say the chief minister will, as usual, take shelter under technicalities, and the government may end up buying time to ‘study’ the report, arguing that the report is only recommendatory in nature. At the most, a committee of officials may be formed, besides placing the report in the Cabinet. For instance, a three-member committee of officials had taken about six months to study the 1,900-page interim report!
The Chief Minister may remain refrain from commenting on the findings of the report because his party leader L K Advani had requested Santosh Hegde to continue as the Lokayukta when he had resigned. It is to be seen how the BJP high command is going to react and act once the report is in public domain.
Because, it is not going to hear anything musical about mining. Advani and his party men had gone ballistic about the 2G scam. Will they do the same in case of illegal mining? Of course, the proportion of the spectrum scam is too big compared to the illegal mining.
‘The security of officers is my concern’
Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde’s final report on illegal mining, likely to be submitted to the government in a few days, is likely to list the types of illegality indulged in by those who are into illegal mining and ore trade and their financial transactions.
The perpetrators of crime have been identified with evidence. It will be left to the government to take action against them.
This is what Hegde, who is going to demit his office on August 2 after being the Lokayukta for five years, had to say when Deccan Herald interacted with him. Hegde has been busy the whole of last week, giving dictation to his subordinate staff regarding the facts, findings and suggestions which had to go into the final report.
He is, however, under no illusion that the government will take appropriate action against those he may name in his report. He is, however, concerned about the safety of the officers who have worked on the report.
Do you think the government will take the final report on mining seriously?
I have no such illusions. When it did not act on our first report? Why would I expect it to act on the final report? The interim report had exposed the types of illegality and the steps that would help in checking the same. The government did nothing. The government should have banned mining till a proper system was in place. Even today, illegal mining is on.
The government has trashed the task force report on land encroachments submitted by V Balasubramanian. Will the mining report meet the same fate?
Yes… possibly the same fate. Because the person who trashed the task force report is into mining! If the government was serious about stopping illegality, then it could have done it long ago.
As per the norms, the Registrar of the Lokayukta will submit the report to the chief secretary. Subsequently, I will give my findings to the media.
Leaders of all political parties are into the mining business. Is there a good ‘bonding’ among them?
When it comes to loot, there is unity among those who are in the business. There are no differences on the lines of caste, party, position or power. It is a united fraternity.
You will be naming a number of people who are into illegal mining business. Will the charges be substantiated?
Of course, everything we say will be backed by facts and figures. Different aspects will be brought to light under 30 chapters. The nature of crime committed or the illegality involved will be explained. We have convincing proof.
We got tremendous help from the Income Tax department to trace the money transactions of people who are into illegal business. In some cases, we will recommend the action to be taken by the government. In some, we will ask them to probe further.
Why did you push the deadline of submitting the report till the end of your retirement?
I wanted to complete the work by March 31. But, the scope of the investigation expanded at least by ten-fold. The CBI investigation, the visits of CEC teams and IT raids on mining companies, the Belekeri incident… all these and more increased our workload. We closely worked with I-T officials who collected massive information during raids.
In some cases, we have to seize computer hardware to find details of money transactions. We had to go through details of lakhs of accounts. We have been able to trace the route of money flow in many cases. Our conclusions are not based on any guess work but only good work.
Is your report is more of a compilation of the available data rather than investigation?
It is both. We completed our field work before filing the interim report. We had to collate lot of information from various sources. I had two teams of four each to work with me. Dr U V Singh has done a wonderful work.
Their security is my concern. In the report, I will be suggesting the steps to be taken by the government to provide them with security.
Hariprasad questions Lokayukta’s integrity
Congress leader B K Hariprasad on Saturday made a serious allegation of shielding the corrupt ministers in the BJP government against Lokayukta justice Santosh Hegde and demanded that he should resign immediately.
Speaking to reporters after the launch of “Congress nadige – janara balige” programme at Subramanyapura, he sought to know why justice Hegde did not immediately take any action against BJP leaders who tried to influence him to spare Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa in the final report on illegal mining.
In the jail by now
“It is only through the media that the entire episode (of BJP leaders trying to influence him) has come to light. This means that Hegde himself has been waiting to strike a deal with the BJP before releasing the mining report,” Hariprasad alleged and added a dozen ministers, including Yeddyurappa, would have been in jail by now had the Lokayukta taken sincere action. Justice Hegde, who is also a member of Lokpal bill drafting panel, had recently made a shocking revelation that Higher Education Minister V S Acharya and the BJP spokesperson Dhanajaya Kumar had requested him not to indict Yeddyurappa in the illegal mining report, which the Lokayukta is likely to submit to the State government this month end.
Hariprasad further accused the Lokayukta of supporting the BJP government in the State to do all illegal affairs.
“Justice Hegde has tried to portray a clean image. He (justice Hegde) speaks as if he has descended from the heavens. Such is the image he has tried to build for himself. His antecedents show just the opposite. We all know how he managed to become a Supreme Court judge earlier in his career,” Hariprasad alleged.
When questioned of his party colleagues in the State holding the Lokayukta in high esteem, Hariprasad said that the answers to such questions can only be given by those leaders.
Illegal mining: State to act against conniving officers
The State government is learnt to have prepared a list of 25 officers, including some IAS and IFS officers, against whom action will be initiated for their involvement in illegal mining.
The list, prepared by a committee headed by Kaushik Mukherjee, Principal Secretary to Environment and Forest department, is based on the recommendations of the Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court. The list has been sent to the Chief Minister’s office seeking approval to take action, official sources said.
Sources said the government is planning to take strict action against the guilty officers. It may even file a criminal case against them, besides suspending from the service. The government is likely to submit an action taken report in this regard to the Supreme Court before it takes up the next hearing on the illegal mining.
Courtesy: Deccan Herald