Updated: August 18, 2021 8:49:54 am
Anand Singh, 54, a four-time MLA from the iron ore-rich Ballari region of Karnataka with business interests in mining and transportation, has been appointed as the minister for tourism, ecology and environment in the BJP government in Karnataka under new Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.
Singh is, however, unhappy with his portfolios and has threatened to quit the cabinet within just a week of being sworn in. He is reportedly seeking high-profile portfolios, like the forest or the energy ministry.
Anand Singh in Yediyurappa regime
Anand Singh was the minister for forest, environment and ecology for nearly a year in the B S Yediyurappa-led BJP government in Karnataka from February 2020 to January 2021.
In 2020, Singh was initially appointed the minister of food and civil supplies, but was given the forest, ecology and environment ministry by Yediyurappa after he demanded a change in his portfolio. Sources in the BJP said the change was effected 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 had said at the time.
The appointment had created a major controversy, and in January 2021, Singh was divested of the forest portfolio and was given the infrastructure development portfolio.
Singh’s demand for creation of a new district of Vijayanagara, out of the large Ballari district, was, however, granted by the Yediyurappa regime. The MLA was also made minister in-charge of the new district and has continued in the role under the new CM Bommai.
Cases against Anand Singh
The wealthy businessman is accused in around 15 cases of illegal mining and forest crimes since 2012. He, however, dismisses the pending cases against him, saying forest violations were minor in nature, like traffic violations.
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 per cent) 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.
The Vijayanagara MLA is also facing trial in three CBI-investigated cases, where he and other members of an alleged illegal mining syndicate, which operated under the leadership of 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.
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 cases were declared by Singh in his election affidavit for the 2019 assembly bypolls.
Singh, meanwhile, had declared assets to the tune of Rs 173 crore during the December 2019 bye-elections to the Vijayanagara seat.
Anand Singh has been associated with the BJP, the Congress and the JDS as well since 2006.
In 2019, Anand Singh was the first among a group of 17 MLAs from the Congress and JDS 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.
The current crisis
The BJP leadership in Karnataka and New Delhi are apprehensive that giving into the demands of Anand Singh for a change in portfolio would trigger similar demands from other ministers, government sources said. Municipal administration minister M T B Nagaraj has expressed unhappiness over his portfolio but has indicated that he would not quit.
A meeting was organised with Singh by former CM Yediyurappa on Wednesday as part of efforts to convince the minister against quitting.
Singh also met Chief Minister Bommai late in the evening on Wednesday.
“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.
“I have never said that I am quitting. They have said they will examine my request and that the issue will be raised with the central leadership,” Singh said after meeting Bommai Wednesday.
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“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,” CM Bommai said Wednesday night after holding parleys with Singh.
The CM, however, did not state categorically whether the crisis due to Singh’s unhappiness with his portfolio had been resolved.