Updated: August 12, 2021 12:47:05 pm
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai has come up against his first crisis since taking over the top job, with a controversial minister in his new cabinet threatening to quit over the portfolio allocated to him.
Anand Singh, who was made the Minister for Environment, Ecology and Tourism, is a wealthy mining businessman-turned-politician who has been accused of illegal mining and forest crimes.
And it is the Forest portfolio — which was given to him for a brief period during the tenure of former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa — that the Vijayanagara MLA is said to have his eyes on.
His alternative demand is the Energy portfolio, which has been given to Sunil Kumar Karkala, a young BJP leader and first-time minister with RSS roots.
Singh is one of the MLAs who helped topple the Congress-JD(S) government in 2019.
Despite efforts by Chief Minister Bommai to convince him, Singh seemed intent on leaving the cabinet if he did not have his way. Yediyurappa organised a meeting with Singh Wednesday to convince the minister against quitting.
“This situation would not have arisen if Yediyurappa was the CM. It is true that I am unhappy,” the minister told reporters before meeting Yediyurappa with BJP MLA Raju Gouda.
Singh also met Bommai late Wednesday evening.
“I have never said that I am quitting,” Singh claimed after meeting Bommai. “They have said they will examine my request and that the issue will be raised with the central leadership.”
“Anand Singh is with us and he is a part of the BJP government. I have asked him to hoist the national flag as the minister in-charge of Vijayanagara district and he has agreed,” Chief Minister Bommai said Wednesday night after the parleys with Singh.
Bommai, however, did not categorically state whether the portfolio crisis had been resolved. Singh reportedly met Bommai on Sunday with a resignation letter but the Chief Minister told him that his issues will be resolved soon.
To convey his unhappiness over the issue, Singh closed his office in his constituency in Vijayanagar on Monday, a source said. “Though Singh has closed the office he is sure everything will be fine and he will have his way,” said this source.
The BJP leadership in Karnataka and New Delhi is apprehensive that giving into Singh’s demands would open up a Pandora’s box of similar demands from other ministers, government sources said. Municipal Administration minister M T B Nagaraj, too, has expressed unhappiness over his portfolio, but has indicated that he will not quit.
In 2019, Anand Singh was the first among a group of 17 MLAs from the Congress and JD(S) who quit their parties to join the BJP to enable the formation of a government led by B S Yediyurappa. Singh is reportedly upset that he has not received enough support from the BJP despite his role in helping the party form a government in Karnataka after displacing a Congress-JDS coalition.
“I was the first one to resign from the assembly (in 2019). After eight days of my resignation, others began resigning. Because of our resignations the BJP came to power in the state. Party leaders should have allocated a major portfolio to me considering all this,” Singh said last week.
Meanwhile, minister V Sunil Kumar, who was allocated energy, Kannada and culture is yet to take charge of the energy portfolio which is being reportedly sought by Singh as an alternative to forests.
Anand Singh is a four time MLA from the iron ore-rich Ballari region of Karnataka with business interests in mining and transportation who is accused of illegal mining and forest crimes in 15 cases pending against him since 2012. He was made the minister for forest, environment and ecology in the B S Yediyurappa led BJP government in Karnataka in February 2020 despite pending forest crimes and illegal mining cases against him.
Singh had dismissed the cases saying forest violations were like traffic violations. The appointment had created a major controversy and a year later in January 2021 Singh was divested of the forest portfolio. A demand by Singh for creation of a new district of Vijayanagara, out of the Ballari district, was however granted by the Yediyurappa regime.
During his tenure as forest minister Singh had announced a controversial move to declassify 6.64 lakh hectares of the 9.94 lakh hectares of deemed forests in the state (nearly 67%) and hand it over to revenue authorities despite the matter needing clearance from the Supreme Court which is monitoring implementation of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980 under the T N Godavarman case of 1996.
In 2020 Singh who was initially appointed the minister of food and civil supplies was granted the forest, ecology and environment ministry by Yediyurappa after the MLA demanded a change in his portfolio. Sources in the BJP said at the time that the change was affected after a senior BJP minister in New Delhi, considered close to Singh, influenced the BJP government in Karnataka.
“The Vijayanagara MLA was unhappy with food and civil supplies. He was demanding the energy portfolio and he was given the forest portfolio in a compromise,” BJP sources said at the time.
Singh declared assets to the tune of Rs 173 crore during the December 2019 bye elections to the Vijayanagara seat. He has been a party hopper and has been associated with the BJP, the Congress and the JDS as well since 2006.
The Vijayanagara MLA is facing trial in three CBI investigated cases where he and other members of an alleged illegal mining syndicate, which operated under the leadership of the former BJP minister Gali Janardhan Reddy, are accused of causing losses of over Rs 200 crore to the exchequer through illegal mining and exports done by recklessly plundering forest land in Ballari.
In all 15 criminal cases were pending against Singh from the 2008-2013 period, when the BJP was in power in Karnataka, and all of them pertain to crimes related to stealing of iron ore material without licenses and permits from legal and illegal mines in Ballari. The 15 cases were declared by Anand Singh himself in his election affidavit for the 2019 assembly by polls.
Several BJP MLAs, who did not find a cabinet berth, are meanwhile making efforts in Delhi and Bengaluru to obtain a cabinet slot in the event of Singh quitting and the BJP also deciding to fill up four existing vacancies in the 34 member state cabinet.
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