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The road to reforming Karnataka’s mine mafia

Posted by on July 31, 2011 0 Comment

fter sliding a mile backward into a morass, Karnataka’smining sector has just been shoved a metre forward. Since it has taken an almighty effort by the judiciary and a quasi-judicial body, the Lokayukta, to accomplish even this much, what hope is there for a sector that is vital for Karnataka’s and India’sindustrial development?? Will the sector – represented by mining firms, traders, transporters, government agencies – slide back deep into the sodden mess or can it free itself?

On the evidence so far, it seems the judiciary still has its task cut out. Particularly because many in the legislature and executive, especially the political class, are part of the problem. In fact, some politicians belong to whatLokayukta Santosh Hegde describes as a ‘mafia’ that has controlled much of the iron ore mining industry and run Bellary district with an iron fist.

Even so, the Supreme Court’s order suspending all mining activity in Bellary has come as a surprise. Earlier in the month, the court had asked if such a step might not be warranted, perhaps hinting at what was to come, but it had also asked Karnataka in April to allow export of iron ore.

What could explain the new hardline stand is that the court has come to a conclusion that the government is too deeply compromised to be able to implement a workable solution. Moreover, accepting the new normal after years of plunder and moving on may just not be acceptable.

“Extreme situations demand extreme measures,” says Sangayya Hiremath, whose NGO took the illegal mining fight to the Supreme Court. “The custodians of rules and regulations have become partners in crime. We need governance first, mining second,” he says.

Long Overdue?

The court suspended mining after it was advised by a panel of experts that the Bellary forest area had been almost totally denuded in the headlong rush to mine iron ore. Its order came a day after Hegde’s report on illegal mining that severely indicted several politicians, including chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, and hundreds of officials.

Just a day before the Supreme Court’s order, many iron ore miners who claim to have been doing business with honour for decades said that the day was not far off when they could resume mining without fear from the Reddy overlords of Bellary. Janardhan Reddy, his elder sibling Karunakara and their close associate B Sriramulu, all of whom are ministers, were spent forces, they surmised: the financial clout of the Reddys had been severely weakened by mining bans in leases controlled by them and the Lokayukta had damaged their political standing. As far as they are concerned, the mining scandal in Karnataka began with the Reddy brothers and ends with them: if the Reddys are not able to influence the administration, rule of law prevails automatically.

But the Supreme Court, apparently, was not so sanguine. And neither is Harish Salve, a senior advocate in the court. Earlier this year, he recused himself as amicus curiae (adviser to the court) in environment matters after he represented mining firms indicted by the court’s Central Empowered Committee tasked with finding out the extent of illegal mining. “I am sceptical. One Yeddyurappa goes, another ten will come,” Salve says.

But not even a sceptic like Salve sees a ban as a solution. According to him, all the leases where encroachments or violations have happened should have been cancelled. “There will be 50 if not 500 for every lease cancelled.” Economic Times

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