The state cabinet Thursday took two contradictory decisions on mining.
In keeping with its pre-election promise,the Congress government decided to go the distance in bringing to book those involved in illegal iron ore mining. At the same time,it lifted the ban on quarrying on the periphery of forests.
The cabinet headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah decided to seek an in-depth CBI probe into illegal excavation and export of iron ore in Karnataka by studying full details of export from the seven ports in south India during 2008-2011,as reported by the Lokayukta in July 2011.
The CBI is already investigating illegal export from the small Belekeri Port in Karnataka but the Lokayukta report states a majority of illegal export of ore in Karnataka occurred from Krishnapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Chennai in Tamil Nadu,Law Minister T B Jayachandra said.
The cabinet also decided to refer to a special investigation team the allegations of complicity in illegal mining against 797 government officials in the Lokayukta report as well as assessment of revenue and royalty loss due to the illegal export. The team would be headed by a police officer of the rank of director general,Jayachandra said.
He said the cabinet recommended an in-depth CBI probe into the activities of Associated Mining Company of former BJP minister G Janardhan Reddy,allegedly the main force behind the illegal iron ore mining activities in Bellary district between 2008 and 2011.
The cabinet also recommended invoking the Prevention of Money Laundering Act by the Enforcement Directorate against all involved in illegal iron ore export that disrupted the financial system of the country.
Jayachandra said the aim was to recover as much of the loot as possible.
Of the 797 officials named in the Lokayukta report based on information retrieved from the computer of a racketeer,a committee headed by then additional chief secretary K Jairaj identified 447 in October 2011 for disciplinary action. No action,however,was taken.
The Congress government referred the matter to chief secretary S V Ranganath,who made 24 key recommendations,including calculation of loss,Jayachandra said. Special courts would try the illegal mining cases,he said.
The law minister justified re-start of quarrying on forest peripheries,saying the 2007 ban on the activity was a result of wrong interpretation of the Forest Act. Section 42 (2) of Karnataka Forest Act bars leasing of land within 100 metres of the periphery of forests but it does not bar quarrying. This position has now been clarified by the law ministry, Jayachandra said.
The re-start of quarrying would benefit over 300 stone crushing units that were shut by the state government in recent years and revive construction and infrastructure development activities stalled because stones had to be bought from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh at high costs,he said.
The Supreme Court rulings on the matter pertained to mining in forest areas,not peripheries,Jayachandra said.
Hospet MLA arrested at international airport
Anand Singh (47),BJP MLA from Hospet in Bellary,was arrested in the illegal mining scam Thursday as he landed in the city from Singapore. The CBI had issued a look-out notice for Singh after he failed to respond to its summons.
The MLA left the country around September 20 after the CBI summoned him for questioning in connection with illegal export of iron ore from the Belekeri Port in Karnataka.
CBI sources said Anand Singh returned with the intention of surrendering before the agency but was detained at the airport. Based on our look-out notices,he was detained at the airport by authorities and handed over, the sources said.
In his anticipatory bail plea,Singh had claimed he was undergoing medical treatment in Singapore. But the CBI countered,saying the MLA did not produce documents to suggest a serious illness that could not be treated in India.
The special CBI court rejected his anticipatory bail plea on October 7,after which the agency initiated the process to issue an Interpol red corner notice against the MLA.
Singh has been remanded in CBI custody till October 26. A bail plea moved on his behalf Thursday will be heard on October 24.
S B Minerals and Vaishnavi Exports,companies owned by Singh,are among the dozens accused of illegal excavation and export of iron ore during 2009-11. His firms are accused of exporting nearly 1.31 lakh metric tonnes of ore through the Belekeri Port.
Shiva Kumar,manager of one of the firms,has already been arrested by the CBI.
Singh is the fourth sitting MLA from Karnataka to be arrested in the Belekeri Port case where over 50 lakh tonnes of iron ore worth over Rs 2,500 crore was illegally exported between 2009 and 2011 by a mafia comprising mining barons-turned-politicians. The other MLAs are independents B Nagendra and T H Suresh Babu,both formerly of the BJP,and Satish Sail,formerly of the Congress.
The case was referred to the CBI by the Supreme Court.
Singh,whose declared wealth jumped from Rs 95.90 crore in 2008 to Rs 104.53 this year,was considered an integral part of the mafia allegedly run by former BJP minister G Janardhan Reddy.