News from Bellikeri port in Karnataka that 5 lakh tonnes of confiscated iron ore has disappeared is shocking,but,sadly,not altogether a surprise. Its already become clear that Karnataka politics has become deeply compromised by interests vested in the mining economy. Even so,the barefaced effrontery of what appears to have taken place in Bellikeri is exceptional. The 5 lakh tonnes stored in the Karwar port were central,of course,to the decision of Karnatakas top anti-corruption official,Lok Ayukta Justice Santosh Hegde,to resign. He had made the investigation of this ore a priority; but,being thwarted at every turn,he said he chose to resign following the attempted suspension of the Deputy Conservator of Forests for Karwar,R. Gokul,who had been pivotal in the detection,seizing and investigation of the ore.
These 5 lakh tonnes,as The Indian Express reported in April,comprised the biggest haul of illegally mined iron ore discovered. The scale of the operation was astounding. An enormous amount of ore between 25,000 and 40,000 truckloads! was stored in state government port facilities using forged permits. The ore,worth between Rs 150 and Rs 250 crore,had been transported across various jurisdictions by 400 to 500 trucks a day for some months. The faked permits and documents discovered filled 41 gunny sacks and were just for a couple of days in February. That alone should make an unanswerable case for the complete breakdown of any sort of accountability or legality in Karnatakas ore-rich districts. But the discovery that,in spite of this well-publicised discovery by the duly constituted anti-corruption authorities,whoever mined that ore felt absolutely no compunction in completely ignoring the investigation and presumably exporting it anyway,is truly chilling.
Yeddyurappa himself appears to have made little attempt to follow up on the former Lok Ayuktas complaints. As this newspaper has shown in extensive reporting,and as has been argued on these pages,the states politics,particularly that of the ruling BJP,has been deeply influenced by the power of those,especially the Reddy brothers,who run the iron ore mines of Bellary. Karnatakas government cannot afford to continue to show itself unable to clean house. The open contempt for legality visible at Bellikeri port is extremely disturbing.