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'The mining scandal is the biggest in India'

July 13, 2010 12:00 IST
The mining scam in Karnataka could easily be worth Rs 2,500 crore (Rs 2.5 billion) says Justice Santosh Hegde, the state's Lokayukta, who has been investigating the scam for the past three years.

The scale of corruption is of a magnitude that India has not witnessed, he says.

On Monday, Opposition Congress and Janata Dal-Secular MLAs and MLCs spent the entire night in the Karnataka assembly, seeking to mount pressure on the B S Yeddyurappa government to order a Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into it.

In this first-person account to Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Justice Hegde speaks about the scam, his resignation and its withdrawal.

Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa has recently admitted that 35 lakh (3.5 million) metric tonnes of iron ore have gone unaccounted for. Let us not just sit back and think that is the entire extent of the scam.

Although I welcome that the admission, I still would say this is only part of the seized material and the statistics are for the period between October 2009 and March 2010.

I would like to point to the rest of the figures. The CM's statement is in respect of the Bilikere port alone. When we take into account the rest of the ports where ore is being transported in the past four to five years, the figure may easily be around 100 lakh (1 billion) metric tonnes which is easily worth over Rs 2,500 crore, which makes it the biggest scam India has ever seen.

The ore is being illegally transported to other ports like Karwar, Mangalore, Goa, Kakinada and Chennai on the east coast. Iron ore is being illegally exported to these ports too.

However the problem is when it comes to Goa and Chennai, we lose jurisdiction. We have sought details from the state mines and minerals department and have been getting shocking statistics. The state has lost a lot of revenue.

Now the general argument would be as to why I am valuing the ore so high when the state gets just Rs 27 per tonne. It would not be fair to valuate it this way. What if the state had extracted the ore and decided to sell it. They would have got the same value as the illegal miners.

What can one do if the state has a policy of pampering private miners and in the bargain is throwing away its property?

It is not hard to crack this scam. My officers are on the job and the entire picture will come out. However, if they give us better infrastructure then we would be able to do it better. My officers are already on the job as we speak.

There have been allegations that some persons in power have been trying to interfere with the investigation. They have done nothing to me or with me directly so far.

I would refrain from taking any name unless there is concrete evidence. The fact of the matter is that nothing in Karnataka is done in their name.

In my report I have clearly mentioned that there are large instances of empty trucks coming in from Andhra Pradesh. They come in with permits from Andhra Pradesh and then enter Karnataka and fill up the trucks. Now you may say there are various checkposts but they can be purchased like peanuts.

When we speak about the AP connection, it only indicates who the people are. No one else can do things like this. It is not easy to pick up fake mining licences and permits and fill up trucks.

When we conducted a seizure recently we realised that most of the permits originated from AP, mainly Kadapa. How do these people manage to get permits from Andhra Pradesh and how many people from Karnataka are capable of getting a permit from AP?

I won't name these people unless I have material on hand. Such an investigation may take time, but then there is also an issue on whether I would be permitted to conduct an investigation on these lines.

I had resigned since I was upset that certain powers were not handed over to me. I then withdrew the same based on assurances from the government. The government has given me powers but have excluded suo motu powers to proceed against the chief minister and his cabinet colleagues.

You asked me if this power could be used arbitrarily by another Lokayukta. But believe me, in their heart, they may just hand over this power to another Lokayukta, but they will never give it to Justice Hegde.

Another point of debate is this may shake up the balance of the government if the Lokayukta proceeds against the chief minister and he may have to step down.

Isn't a common man always under the scrutiny of the law? The common man, if booked, can go up to the court and prove his innocence. The CM can do the same. Doesn't a CM have the right and power to go up to a court and prove himself?

Now the question of a CM resigning in case he is proceeded against. I will not buy this argument at all. Did Lalu Yadav resign, did the CM of Jharkhand resign? (when cases were registered against them). Even if a CM is proceeded against, he can always tell the people that he will fight it in court and if the charges are proved only then will he step down.

I find it very funny. A sub inspector can book a case against the CM, but a Lokayukta cannot.

I am also pretty perturbed by some of the statements from the corridors of power. Recently a politician said that me asking for power is politically motivated. I only want to ask them as to why do they always judge us by their own standards.

However, I am not deterred by this refusal to grant suo motu powers. I had told you earlier too that under the Prevention of Corruption Act, I still have the power to proceed against the CM or any of his ministers based on a complaint against them.

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