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Bellary: Reddys get richer, locals get poorer

Last updated on: July 23, 2010 17:56 IST

Bellary: Reddys get richer, locals get poorer

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Stories of gaudy luxury and merciless poverty co-exist in the prosperous mining district of Bellary, finds Rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa.

In Bellary, the dusty core of the mining industry in Karnataka, the rich get richer and the poor continue to live in squalor, say locals.

Among the many fascinating rumours surrounding the powerful Reddy brothers of Bellary -- State Tourism Minister G Janardhana Reddy and Revenue Minister G Karunakara Reddy -- is the one about their new mansion. The brothers are reportedly constructing a 60-bedroom house that will be 'bomb-proof'.

At a press conference earlier this week, Janardhan Reddy dismissed such reports and claimed that he was being targeted as people could not accept the fact that the son of a former police constable has achieved such success.

"They make allegations against me, but I am pure, like 24-carat gold," he had declared.


Image: The mining industry thrives in Bellary

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'I am worth Rs 1,000 crore'

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Back in Bellary, people speak in hushed tones about the money the Reddy brothers have. Swanky cars, helicopters and state-of-the-art campaign vehicles are just a few tell-tale signs of their immense wealth.

Janardhan Reddy told the state assembly last year, 'People say I am worth Rs 100 crore (Rs 1 billion). I want to correct them. I am worth Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion).'

The rise of the Reddy brothers has been phenomenal. They are reported to earn a staggering Rs 12 crore (Rs 120 million) to Rs 17 crore (Rs 170 million) every day through mining.

They make it very clear that they do not own an inch of land in Karnataka and the money is being earned through the Obalapuram Mining Company in Andhra Pradesh.


Image: An Audi, one of the many high-end cars owned by the Reddy brothers

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The Reddy brothers have been involved with politics and the mining business for nearly a decade.

Locals recall that they made their foray into mainstream politics in 1999, when Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj took on Congress President Sonia Gandhi in the Lok Sabha election from the Bellary constituency.

The brothers, who travelled around on motorcycles at that time, prefer to use helicopters these days.


Image: The brothers prefer to use helicopters to commute these days

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'We barely manage to make ends meet'

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The Reddys today own two Bell helcopters, a fleet of Mistubuishi Pajeros, an Audi, a Rolls Royce Phantom and a dozen SUVs.

The bus that Janardhan Reddy uses during election campaigns costs Rs 4 crore (Rs 40 million)and is equipped with a bedroom, a television and a kitchen, rather like what Bollywood A-listers like Shah Rukh Khan boast of.

But the Reddys and their money is the brighter, richer side of the story of Bellary. Many locals still live in tiny huts, covered with the iron ore dust that is such an inevitable part of life in this mining district.

"We barely manage to make ends meet," says Siddappa, a resident. "I hear people talking about Bellary and how it is a place for rich people. I fail to understand what they mean."


Image: Janardhan Reddy's Rs 4 crore bus

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Poverty, ill health, bad roads

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Poverty is not the only issue that plagues the locals. Many of them suffer from asthma due to the inhalation of the iron ore dust left behind in the trail of the trucks ferrying the precious ore.

District hospital authorities told Rediff.com that in the past year there has been a steep increase in the cases of respiratory disorders and they have treated nearly 2,500 cases.

Mining, especially the illegal version of it, has disturbed the social fabric, triggered health hazards and resulted in bad roads. The locals complain they are unable to sleep at nights since speeding trucks keep them awake.


Image: The poor continue to get poorer
Photographs: Dominic Xavier
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Illegal mining flouts every rule

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Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde, who is conducting a probe into the illegal mining lobby operating in the state, had pointed out after his first visit to Bellary early last year that people also suffered from a variety of skin ailments because of the mining dust.

He had also pointed out that the roads were in a pathetic condition thanks to lorries which carried way beyond the permissible quantity of ore.

It was pointed out that a lorry, which has permission to carry 16 tonnes of ore, ends up carrying 30 tonnes. These lorries also drive at high speeds and cause accidents.

Nearly 4,000 trucks carry iron ore to the nearest Belekeri port every day. This damages the roads significantly and gives sleepless nights to the locals.


Image: The tiny hutments where many locals reside
Photographs: Dominic Xavier
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Mining riches attract the young

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The lure of easy money associated with the mining business has also torn apart the social fabric of the region.

The temptation of easy money keeps the youth away from their studies. The mining business lure the youth with fancy bikes and high salaries.

Locals point out that the youth prefer to travel on fancy bikes carrying free cell phones instead of finishing their studies or considering alternate professions.


Image: Monkeys near a pond in Bellary
Photographs: Dominic Xavier
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