Seven years back, when India was witnessing its biggest anti-corruption movement, the state of Karnataka also went through mega political turbulence, courtesy a Rs 35,000-crore illegal iron ore mining scam.
Mining baron and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state minister Gali Janardhana Reddy emerged as the face of the scandal after former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde blew the lid off of illegal mining in Karnataka.
In a fallout of the scandal, the then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, who was also indicted in a bribery case related to mining, resigned from his post in June 2011 and even spent three weeks in Bengaluru Central Jail.
Fast-forward to the 2018 Karnataka elections, Janardhana Reddy is again campaigning for the BJP, his two brothers – Somashekara and G Karunakara – are contesting the elections and Yeddyurappa is the chief ministerial candidate of the party.
So, what happened in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry of the case and how many of the politicians involved in the mining scam are fighting in the current elections? Let’s dig deep.
The Enormity of the Mining Scam
While the worth of the illegal iron ore mining scam has been pegged at Rs 35,000 crore – based on the Lokayukta report, experts estimate that the robber barons might have cost the state exchequer Rs 50,000 crore in taxes and other levies.
The mining syndicate spread across Ballari-Hosapete, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts claimed that it was mining 50 million tonnes of iron ore every year, whereas probes revealed that another 30-40 million tonnes was being illegally mined and siphoned off.
The initial Lokayukta report stated that 12.57 crore metric tonnes of iron ore, originating from Karnataka, was exported via ports in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka in the period spanning from 2006 to 2010.
Where Does the Investigation Stand?
The CBI closed most of the cases in the mining scam in September 2017, saying that “no prima facie is made out to justify registration of a case”.
However, the Congress has alleged the Centre’s interference in the CBI probe.
According to News18, there are 63 cases against Janardhana, his family members and associates in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Out of these, 10 cases involve the Belekeri port. With the CBI having exited the probe, and given the magnitude of the scandal, even the chargesheets have not been filed in all the cases, and investigation is still underway.
All cases pertaining to the illegal transportation of iron ore from ports in Mangaluru, Karwar, Krishnapatnam and Goa have been disposed of due to the lack of evidence.
In January 2018, the state Cabinet transferred 76 cases, which were earlier probed by the CBI, to a Special Investigation Team (SIT).
Who Are the BJP Candidates Involved?
The scam tainted the BJP’s ‘anti-corruption’ crusader image in 2011, and also led to Yeddyurappa’s departure from the party for few years. However, the former chief minister and other BJP leaders accused in the scam are contesting the upcoming elections.
Even though the BJP’s National President Amit Shah has publicly distanced the party from Janardhana Reddy, he continues to campaign for his brothers.
Here are the high-profile BJP leaders tainted in the mining scam, who are again participating in the electoral race:
BS Yeddyurappa has represented the Shikaripura seat in Shimoga district seven times since 1983. Even in 2013, when he left the BJP and floated his own party – the Karnataka Janata Party – he defeated Congress’ Shanta Veerappa Gowda by a margin of 24,000 votes.
Yeddyurappa has always been a mass leader. He is the BJP’s go-to man for Lingayat votes, with Lingayats comprising the biggest community and the largest vote bank in Karnataka.
Yeddyurappa also got more impetus after the October 2016 special CBI court verdict, which acquitted him, his two sons and son-in-law in the graft case related to illegal mining in Ballari.
Recently, when he was asked about the BJP’s closeness with the Reddys, Yeddyurappa said he was aware of the past, but winning each Assembly constituency was important for the party.
Somashekara Reddy and G Karunakara Reddy
Two out of three Reddy brothers infamous for their involvement in the mining scam –Somashekara and Karunakara Reddy – managed to come out of political oblivion ahead of the polls in the state.
Somashekara Reddy, the younger brother of Janardhana, has got the BJP ticket from the Ballari City seat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself campaigned for Somashekara on his visit to Ballari.
The BJP has fielded Karunakara Reddy from Harapanahalli in Ballari district.
The Reddy family’s influence continues to play a part in the politics of the Ballari region. The big brother, Janardhana, who is prohibited from entering Ballari according to his bail conditions, continues to campaign for the BJP less than 50 km away.
Janardhana Reddy is backing his close associate B Sriramulu, who is the BJP's candidate from Molakalmuru in Chitradurga in the upcoming polls.
Citing Reddy’s prohibition, the BJP decided to move Sriramulu, a Lok Sabha member from Ballari, to Molakalmuru.
Sriramulu is an influential Scheduled Tribe leader who has been a BJP loyalist for most of his political career. He even played a key role in Sushma Swaraj’s 1999 Lok Sabha election campaign in Ballari, when she contested against former Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
Following the mining scam, Sriramulu parted ways with the BJP and formed his own party, BSR Congress. However, just like Yeddyurappa, he merged his party with the BJP in 2014.
Meanwhile, Sriramulu's uncle, Sanna Fakirappa, too has received a ticket to contest from the Ballari rural constituency, and actor Saikumar, another close aide of Janardhana Reddy, has been named as the candidate from Bagepalli.
How Was the Congress Involved in the Mining Scam?
The Congress government in Karnataka has been criticised for not having taken out an action report on the mining scam yet. The government has also failed to act on the 19 big miners indicted by the then Lokayukta Santosh Hegde.
Another sting in the step of the incumbent Congress is the mention of minister Santosh Lad and former BJP turncoat Anand Singh in the 2011 report.
Lad is also a mining baron in the iron ore-rich Ballari district. He serves as labour minister and is the sitting MLA from Kalghatgi constituency in Dharwad district.
“It’s just that everybody is involved in it. The Congress is there, JD(S) and BJP is there. So naturally when it comes to this – you scratch my back, I scratch yours,” Hegde had told News18 last year.
Another graft-smeared mining baron from Ballari, who is also contesting on a Congress ticket, is Anand Singh. Singh is a two-term MLA from the Vijayanagara constituency in Ballari. Formerly with the BJP, he was the tourism minister in the Yeddyurappa government between 2008 to 2013. He switched to the Congress in January, this year, blaming the BJP's communal agenda for his exit.
(With inputs from The Times of India, News18 and PTI.)
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