Senior Congress leader H K Patil has questioned the Congress-JDS government’s decision to sell 3,666 acres of land in Karnataka’s Bellary region to steel major JSW Steel Ltd at a low price at the end of a 10-year lease agreement.
In letters to Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and Industries Minister K J George, Patil, who recently quit as chief of the Congress’s state election campaign committee after the party’s poll debacle, has questioned a May 27 decision of the state cabinet to sell 3,666 acres to JSW Steel Ltd.
Patil has raised objections on the ground that the state government has not obtained a legal opinion on the sale of the land which he had sought in 2015 as rural development minister and head of the cabinet sub-committee on control of implementation of the 2011 Lokayukta report on illegal mining.
The former minister has claimed that the sale of the land to JSW Steel Ltd is questionable since the Lokayukta named the steel firm, among others, in its report on illegal mining.
In its cabinet decision on May 27, the Karnataka government decided to sell 3,666 acres of land that were leased to JSW Steel Ltd at a cost of Rs 1,22,199 which was the price the land was acquired for in 2005 by the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board to lease to JSW Steel Ltd.
Patil has also claimed that the steel firm owes the state government Rs 1,200 crore for using a mine belonging to the state-run Mysore Minerals Limited to mine iron ore for several years.
“The stand of the Congress party against illegal mining is clear. Despite this reality, the current coalition government has decided to sell land at a throwaway price to a company accused in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining. Instead of focussing on recovering huge dues from the firm, the state cabinet has decided to sell 2000.68 acres in the Toranagal and Kirekuppa villages and 1666.73 acres in Mosenayakanahalli and Yarabanahalli to JSW Steel Ltd (Jindal Company),’’ Patil says in his June 4, 2019 letter to Industries Minister George.
Senior Congress leaders, including ministers D K Shivakumar, Krishna Byre Gowda and George, have defended the decision to sell the leased land to JSW Steel Ltd. Shivakumar has cited a 2006 decision of the JDS-BJP government to sell land to JSW at the end of a lease-cum-sale agreement as a precedent. Byregowda has stated that the sale of land is as per the agreement signed with the firm and that the state advocate general’s opinion had been obtained in this matter.
The state advocate general in his opinion on the sale of the land to JSW Steel Ltd as enclosed in the cabinet proceedings has stated that he is not aware of pending legal proceedings against the firm. “It is not brought to my notice that any criminal proceedings or pending against the leesee pursuant to the Hon’ble Lokayukta’s report in fact Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka in WP No 44071/2011 had quashed the said chapter 22 of Hon’ble Lokayukta’s report on ground that it was outside the scope of reference made by government of Karnataka,’’ says the A-G’s opinion.
Patil and BJP leader C T Ravi have also questioned the state government on why it has not demanded the present market rate of around Rs 50 lakh per acre for the absolute sale of the land to the private firm. “NHAI acquired land in the same area for road development at a rate of Rs 40 lakh per acre. The state government is giving the land away at a throwaway price,’’ Ravi said.
“When an absolute sale deed is implemented as per such agreements, the sale price is not fixed according to the prevailing market rate. This is the norm in the state government,’’ Industries Minister George has claimed. “The advocate general of Karnataka gave an opinion on 03.03.2018. As per existing rules and the agreement, the state government can fix the price of sale and after obtaining clearance from the state cabinet, a sale agreement in favour of the leesee can be drawn up,’’ he said.
Patil has said the state government must not proceed with the decision. “There is a case still pending in the Supreme Court with respect to illegal mining in Karnataka filed by Samaj Parivartan Samudaya,’’ he has stated.
“The said land was leased to JSW Steel for expansion of its steel plant capacity at Vijayanagar and the lease hold land shall become a free hold land as per the terms of original lease on expiry of specific period of lease. The information that is being spread is false and misleading,” a JSW Steel spokesperson said in a statement.