What K’taka lost out due to opposition’s boycott

Rs 1 crore, 90 lakh. That is what Karnataka lost out, thanks to the Opposition boycott, which entered its third day on Thursday.

Though the Opposition has decided not to take their salary and allowances, they managed to save a meagre Rs 7 lakh per day. The overall amount includes the Rs 40 lakh that was wasted last Friday when the House was adjourned when legislators almost came to blows.

The dharna, which has been on for the last 60 hours, now continues with the Opposition refusing to back out until the chief minister orders a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into illegal mining.

The chief minister is ready for a Lokayukta probe. While the dharna in the House continues, the loss continues to rise.

Statistics available from the legislative assembly suggests that per day Rs 41 lakh is being spent on the proceedings in both the Houses. The break-up provided by the assembly staff suggests this expenditure, includes salaries of staff, MLAs and MLCs and also power and decoration charges.

The breakup: (per day)

Salary for officer and staff: Rs 9.6 lakh

Staff Honorarium: Rs 15.2 lakh

Salary for members of both Houses: Rs 2.55 lakh

Payment for parliamentary functionaries: Rs 6,000

Honorarium paid to police and staff of horticulture department: Rs 2.8 lakh

Travel allowance to all members and employees at both Houses: Rs 48 lakh

Miscellaneous expenditure: Rs 8.46 lakh

Electricity: Rs 60,000

Decoration: Rs 60,000

Civil work by the Public Works Department: Rs 10.35 lakh

The BJP may adjourn House: While Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa says that he will meet Governor H R Bharadwaj and discuss the issue of mining, he has made it clear that there is no way that this issue will be handed over to the CBI.

However, the BJP may try and counter the Opposition move by adjourning the House so that all activity in the assembly would be continued at a future date. However the government will have to wait until it passes the important finance bill before it adjourns the House.

Image: Legilsators stage a dharna in the assembly.


What is Karnataka mining row all about?

The Karnataka legislative assembly is in disarray and the Opposition has refused to let proceedings begin until the chief minister orders a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the illegal mining.

While there has been a buzz regarding illegal mining for quite sometime now, it was Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s admission regarding illegal mining which turned the heat on. There is speculation in Bharatiya Janata Party circles in Karnataka why the CM had to make such a big admission.

The chief minister, who holds the mines and forests portfolio, sought to checkmate the opposition. On the floor of the house, the CM sought to explain that it is the members of the other parties who are resorting to illegal mining and if he found anyone in his own party doing the same, he would act upon it.

The Karnataka mines and minerals department grants licence on the basis of the recommendation by the government to carry out mining activities. The licence clearly earmarks the area on which mining can be carried out. It also earmarks exactly how much ore can be extracted. The mining company has to pay Rs 27 per metric tonne of ore extracted to the state government.

However, various investigations conducted over the years show that mining activity is carried out in areas that are not earmarked by the government. A report by the state Lokayukta clearly states that illegal mining is carried out in forest areas and the ore is being transported illegally. Karnataka alone has over 9,000 million tonnes of iron ore resources, the bulk of which is magnetite. The production during 2007-08 crossed 47 million tonnes.

The production is mainly concentrated in the Bellary/Hospet area with the balance from Chitradurga, Bagalkot and Tumkur districts. When the chief minister made the statement, he said that nearly 30 million tonnes had been exported in the last seven years. The report on illegal mining states that in the last year alone 7.1 million tonnes of ore was extracted and transported illegally to various ports, though exports of the ore dropped by 20 per cent.

Another method of siphoning off the ore involves overloading trucks. A person with a legal mining licence will extract more than the prescribed quantity and overload trucks. The Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde says that most of trucks are overloaded beyond the prescribed limit with illegal ore. During a raid by his officials earlier this year, one night alone they found 99 trucks that we overloaded.

There have also been allegations of mining barons tampering with the state borders to suit their purpose. A matter pertaining to altering the Andhra-Karnataka border in order to mine more than the prescribed limit is pending before the court.

The Lokayukta report makes it clear that it has become very easy to transport illegal ore out of Karnataka. The biggest problem is the corruption at check-posts Between Bellary and Bilikere port (from where the ore is shipped out) there are eight check posts and most of the illegal ore has been transported on this road. Not a single case has been booked against any lorry or mining company till date in the past three years. Not a single case has been booked and not one officer has been charged for dereliction of duty.

Once these trucks make it past the check posts, they are loaded into containers at the ports and then transported. The question now is how they manage export the ore despite it being illegal. Nearly 200 fake permits were seized by Karnataka police last year. Each of these permits had originated from Andhra Pradesh while the trucks carrying the ore were from Karnataka. These permits show an inflated figure and the illegal miners manage to export the ore.

In Karnataka, mining and the Reddy brothers, who are cabinet ministers, are synonymous. The CM however disputes this outright and says that leaders belonging to all political parties are involved in this racket. The CM says since 2003 successive governments have granted mining licenses for their kith and kin.

“MLA B Suresh Babu, present state Congress president R V Deshpande, former state congress president Allam Veerabhadrappa, Congress leaders M Y Ghorpade, R L Jalappa, Anil Lad, Majunath Kunnur, MLA M T Krishanppa’s son K Raju, former MLC S R Srinivas’ wife Bharathi Devi are either involved in illegal mining or abetting it,” the CM alleged.

When Dharam Singh was the Congress chief minister, 43 mining licences were recommended and central government granted 33. The Janata Dal-Secular government headed by H D Kumaraswamy recommended 47 and central government granted 22 licenses and during the President’s Rule 22 were recommended and 14 issued. The present BJP regime recommended 22 but on 2 licences were granted.

In the Lokayukta report submitted in December 2008, it recommended that Rs 23.22 crore be recovered from Dharam Singh for giving illegal mining leases. Before the government initiated action, the then governor had asked the state government to drop the case under Lokayukta Act section 12/4, Yeddyurappa alleged.

Despite the CID and the Lokayukta probing the mining scam, the Opposition wants a CBI probe. The logic behind a CBI probe is because it is felt that only this agency would have the jurisdiction since the issue has inter-state ramifications. The CM has however ruled out a CBI probe for now.

New policy: Despite the BJP in Karnataka stating that it has initiated a new policy to curb illegal mining, there is a big loophole in it which permits existing owners to continue with their activity. The new amendment to the mines and minerals act bans export of ore. However the amendment is silent if it applies to existing miners. The opposition says that the biggest problem is from the existing owners and hence this amendment makes no sense. However, Yeddyurappa has passed the buck on to the Centre and says that an amendment relating to existing users can be brought about only from New Delhi.

Will you hand over Bombay?- The unedited version

Even as the border dispute between Karnataka and Maharashtra hots up, the former is all set to file its reply before the Supreme Court of India. Sources in the Karnataka legal team who are working on the reply have already begun drafting the same and say that language is just one way of determining the reorganization of states per se.

There has been a long standing border dispute between the two states. While Karnataka holds on to Belgaum claiming it to be theirs’, Maharashtra on the other hand says that since a large part of the population is Marathi speaking, this part of Karnataka should be handed over to them. This dispute has once again been making headlines and there have been violent protests and Maharashtra has even withdrawn their bus service to this part of Karnataka fearing trouble.

The legal fraternity representing Karnataka however state clearly that this issue is clearly a case of political question doctrine and since the matter is such the courts should stay away. The tone in which Maharashtra speaks is clearly invalid and they cannot fight the case on the ground that this region should belong to them just because of the language factor. Karnataka also states that just because a large part of the population in Mumbai speaks in Bihari, Bihar cannot stake a claim over this city and ask it to be a union territory or make it a part of Bihar. The case of Belgaum is similar, they claim.

Karnataka also relies heavily on the stance of the Union Government which stated that language is just one of the factors to determine the reorganization of a state, but also adds that this is not the whole and sole factor.

Further the reply also goes on to state that there are a lot of people in the Belgaum region who are bi-lingual and therefore it is just a fact that if a person speaks in one language it does not mean that he or she has a right to live in a state that has the dominant language. In other words, the Marathi speaking public of Belgaum cannot say that they should be given the right to live in Maharashtra, since Marathi is the dominant language over there. Karnataka however goes on to add that the people are entitled to speak in any language that they want, but no other state has the right to shove down a language on a person’s throat and insist that he or she is part of the state that speaks the dominant language.

Karnataka also states that this is a matter which is well settled and Maharashtra cannot make the claim when it even amends its plea in which it goes on to state that the government of India is obliged to be a Parens Patriach and should act fairly.

The reply will be filed once Maharashtra amends its plea and that is likely to happen in another three weeks time, sources also pointed out.

Mining row continues to rock K’taka assembly

Deadlock in Karnataka over the mining issue continued for the second day with Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa failing to convince the Opposition to let the proceedings go on smoothly.

The Opposition leaders, who continued their dharna on the floor of the House, say they will not relent unless and until the chief minister announced a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into illegal mining since both the Lokayukta and the CID were incapable of taking any action.

The Speaker had no option, but to adjourn proceedings until tomorrow. The chief minister made several requests to the Opposition to call off dharna, but the Opposition demanded a CBI probe and also action against the Reddy brothers who they alleged had threatened to finish them off and also tried and assault them on the floor of the House.

The protest comes in the wake of the chief minister shifting the onus to the Union government to amend the mining policy.

The CM, who said that he would step down if the issue is not resolved further, went on to state export of iron ore has been banned. He, however, added that the power to ban the export by existing mine owners rests with the Centre.

Meanwhile, the Bellary Reddy brothers have moved court against the notice by the Election Commission of India. The Governor of Karnataka had stated in a report that the Reddy brothers had amassed more wealth than declared in their affidavit, while referring it to EC.

Sri Sri: Don’t want people to get prejudiced against swamis

The Art of Living Foundation, headed by guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, has been mired in several controversies over the last few weeks. First was the incident where AoL members claimed that a man had fired at Sri Sri’s convoy and that he was the intended target. The police later claimed that it was merely a case of somebody firing at a stray dog.

Recently, a non-resident Indian, Paul P, alleged that the foundation had grabbed 15 acres of his land on Kanakapura Road near Bengaluru where the AoL ashram is situated. AoL claimed that Paul’s friend Agni Sreedhar was trying to extort money by making baseless charges against the organisation.

In an interview with rediff.com’s Vicky Nanjappa, the jetsetting spiritual guru speaks about the land-grabbing allegations, the Swami Nityananda sex scandal and his interaction with Naxal leaders.

The Naxal menace has become uncontrollable. During your interactions with Naxal leaders, what did you feel was their present mindset?

Their sole aim is to capture power at the Centre. Their ideology is anti-democratic and anti-imperialistic. Their grievances are about the system’s corruption, exploitation and injustice. Yet, they are hugely motivated. In fact, India needs such youth to wipe out the corruption and injustice in our system. Nevertheless, I am completely against their modus operandi of violence.

What do the Naxals want from the Indian government?

They just want to come to power by their own strength and force. According to them, people can put them on a pedestal and bring them down also. So they want to come to power on their own strength.

Is the Indian government dealing with this issue in the right manner?

I am not part of their decision-making, assessment or plan of action. So I don’t know the strategy of the Indian government.

Do you think use of force will help solve this problem?

I have always said that violence cannot be quelled by violence. Also, the killing of hundreds of Central Reserve Police Force jawans by the Naxals has only earned them the wrath and condemnation of even the poorest of the poor.

There have been some controversies surrounding the ashram recently, the latest one regarding the charges made by Agni Sreedhar. What do you have to say about that? Do such incidents disturb the mindset of the devotees in the ashram?
Not at all. An extortionist, when caught, will definitely try to create a non-existent issue. We had purchased the land in 2004 after publishing a public notice in newspapers. Now someone says that the seller’s father owed him some money in the past and the ashram has not paid. It doesn’t make sense.

Some members of the ashram want your security cover to be enhanced. Why is the state government not providing security?

I don’t want more security. Thousands of people come from all over the world everyday to meet me. I don’t want a wall between me and my devotees. My security is my love for the people.

What do you have to say about the recent controversy surrounding Swami Nityananda (who was arrested on charges of cheating and rape)? Do you think the case was stage-managed? What advice do you have for him?

I have already given my opinion. (Sri Sri had said that Swami Nithyananda had violated the rules of tantra. Only a householder is entitled to have tantric sex. Claiming to be a saint and using so many people for one’s pleasure is unpardonable)

I don’t want people to get prejudiced against swamis. At the same time, swamis need to be frank and forthright. If they have made a mistake, they should accept it and move on.

BJP fails to convice K’taka Lokayukta from quitting

A last ditch attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party to refrain Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde from resigning has failed.

State BJP unit chief K S Eshwarappa, Home Minister Dr V S Acharya and Law Minister Suresh Kumar met Justice Hegde and asked him to reconsider his decision, but the Lokayukta averred that he will not change his mind.

The senior BJP leaders urged Justice Hegde to withdraw his resignation and pointed out that Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa had promised to act against illegal mining.

The top anti-corruption official had resigned to protest the state government’s inaction about several of his reports, specially the one about the illegal mining lobby operating in Karnataka.

When contacted, Jutstice Hegde told rediff.com, “My answer continues to be an emphatic no. I am sticking to my decision.”

When queried about the chief minister promising to act against illegal mining, he said, “It is a very bold decision. The CM has admitted to the problem and also assured action.”

He added, “The job can’t be done single-handedly by the CM. He has to ensure that all the departments involved in this aspect coordinate with each other and end the problem. Whether he will be able to do that is yet to be seen”.

Speaking about his meeting with BJP leaders, Justice Hegde said, “They told me that the CM is making an honest attempt to clean up the mess. He has decided to bring in new rules and has also spoken to the Centre, seeking more help on this issue”.

The Lokayukta is expected to submit another report on illegal mining to the state government in 20 days, after which he will step down from office.

We have not grabbed any land: AOL

Amidst allegations of land grabbing, the Art of Living foundation has decided to come clean and explain in detail its land holding and how it came into their possession.

The AoL said that in the year 2005, preparations for the silver jubilee celebrations of the foundation were on. Many people from all over India and the world were expected at the ashram in Bengaluru for the event.

In light of this, the AoL purchased 14 acres of land from a person named Vijay. All the land documents were verified, a notice was issued in the newspapers calling for any objections.

After waiting for six months for any response, the land was bought from him at the market price. After AoL took legal possession of the land, a gentleman called Paul P challenged the sale claiming that Vijay’s father was his business partner and owed him money, the ashram authorities said in a statement.

“Agni Sridhar (an intermediary), recently alleged that the ashram had grabbed the land of the aforementioned Vijay, a dalit, who as it turns out is a Brahmin. Paul coming on TV and saying that ashram has grabbed his land is baseless. We had even requested Vijay and Paul to settle their grievances amicably. We will never agree to any unfair practices and we will follow the verdict of the court,” the statement added.

“Where is the question of land grabbing? We have always bought land at the current market value after checking all the legalities. Land laws in Karnataka [ Images ] are stringent and it takes a lot of time for the deal to become legal. By the time the land is registered, years pass and prices soar. After the deal is made, by the time you actually get possession, sometimes you pay ten times more. Nevertheless we have always paid the correct value for the land. Often we have lost land because we did not wish to indulge in bribery,” the statement also said.

“In recent years, when more people began coming to the ashram, more accommodation and facilities were required. Over the years we have acquired an additional 22 acres of land from Kashinath, 8 acres from Colonel Sobti, 16 acres from Madhusoodan Baliga, 13 acres from Shiva Kumar and 15 acres from various farmers,” the statement went on to say.

According to real estate experts, land costs around Rs 85 lakh per acre in the area where the AoL ashram is situated.

“Currently, we are in the process of acquiring few acres more of land for the proposed Ayurveda hospital and educational institutions,” the statement said.

The AoL also said that when it started out, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar started receiving invitations from different parts of the world to give lectures on Vedic knowledge. During a visit to the German university, he was asked to decode Sanskrit manuscripts. Ravishankar decided to do the same, and along with some eminent personalities such as Justice V R Krishna Iyer (former Chief Justice of India) and others, established the Ved Vignan Maha Vidya Peeth in 1981.

“In 1985, VVMVP applied for 100 acres of fertile land close to a forest on Bannnerghatta Road in Bengaluru to build a Vedic academy. Gundu Rao, the then chief minister of Karnataka, agreed to allot the land. In the couple of years that followed, it transpired that the land to be given to them had been given to Islamia Institute. The CM then gave alternative land to VVMVP off Kanakapura Road. This was 60 acres of barren land covered with rocks where nothing grew. There was not a single tree,” the AoL stated.

“Although it was such arid land, VVMVP agreed to take it on lease for a period of 30 years. Even though the full amount was paid to the government at the time of the purchase, VVMVP had to wait an additional two years to take possession of it. By this time, locals had begun encroaching upon the land. When the officials gave VVMVP permission to take possession of the land, only 24 acres was available of the 60 acres, as villagers who had settled on the land had usurped the rest.”

“The land authorities were on the verge of removing the settlers when Sri Sri Ravishankar intervened and said that VVMVP would take only 24 acres and allow the villagers to remain where they were,” the ashram also stated.

“Subsequently, VVMVP approached the government to give the remaining land due to it somewhere else. It was in the mid nineties that the government allotted 19.5 acres on the opposite side of where the ashram now stands. This was also a barren hill. At present VVMVP still does not have all of 60 acres of land, which was allotted to it in the mid eighties and is still awaiting an additional 16.5 acres,” the statement said.

“Since some malefactors have come up with stories that the Art of Living ashram has grabbed land from poor people, the foundation felt compelled to present the truth behind each piece of land possessed by VVMVP. Then VVMVP bought another eight acres next to the lake near the ashram. This land was purchased from people around the lake, which was all set to be used for a poultry farm, the ashram said in the statement.

The curious case of AOL

A month after the alleged shooting at its Bengaluru ashram, the Art of Living Foundation now confronts charges of land grabbing.
The allegation comes a day after AoL stated it had received extortion calls demanding Rs 42 crore (Rs 420 million), failing which the institution would be defamed.

Non-Resident Indian Paul P has alleged that AoL grabbed 15 acres of land on Kanakapura Road near Bengaluru where the AoL ashram is situated. Paul claimed he approached an intermediary, Agni Shridhar, after talks with AoL failed.

Paul said he bought the plot 12 years ago from a farmer named Mohan. However, Mohan’s son Vijay refused to execute the sale deed.

“Even as I approached the court, Vijay handed the land over to AoL. When I met (AoL founder Sri Sri) Ravishankar two years ago, he promised to settle the issue, but now they are threatening me and asking me to forget about the land,” Paul claimed.

Agni Shridhar, who was asked to mediate in the matter, said, “Ravishankar told me he was promoting Hinduism, and I should support him. Today they have cooked up a case of extortion against me.”

The Foundation says it registered the plot in question after buying it legally from the owner, Vijay, on Feburary 5, 2007. ‘The Art of Living has no association with Paul,’ the ashram stated.

“Shridhar had visited the ashram with a proposal for initiating joint social development projects with his organisation as well as with other Dalit organisations. He requested the ashram authorities to review the projects. When senior faculty members visited Shridhar, instead of discussing the projects, he threatened to malign the organisation with the false allegations that he is currently making,” ashram sources alleged.

After a couple of days, AoL faculty members started receiving threatening calls demanding Rs 42 crore to stop him (Shridhar) from defaming the organisation,” the AoL sources claimed.

Sources in the Bengaluru police feel there is a constant effort by the ashram to get its security enhanced. Some members in the ashram, they add, feel if spiritual gurus like Baba Ramdev could be given ‘Z’ category security, why should Sri Sri Ravishankar be left out.

Police sources say there is no threat perception to Sri Sri Ravishankar, and hence the question of providing him ‘Z’ category security does not arise.

After the alleged shooting incident at the ashram on May 30, Ravishankar’s security was enhanced.

A spokesperson for the ashram told Rediff.com that Sri Sri Ravishankar has always maintained that he did not want security as it would prevent him from meeting people.

“We have on many occasions been offered enhanced security, but we have refused it always,” the AoL spokesperson added.

Ravishankar’s take

Sri Sri Ravishankar, the founder of the Art of Living, has broken his silence on allegations of land grabbing against his Bengaluru-based foundation. He said, “We are compassionate but firm in dealing with anti-social elements. We will not budge or fall into the trap of miscreants. These tactics of threat and hiding behind fictitious stories will not work.”

He urged the people to be patient and not to take law into their hands. “The truth will always triumph. An extortionist cannot hide under the garb of helping the downtrodden. This exercise of false propagation and instigation will not work. (Agni) Sridhar has threatened to malign us by using fabricated videos of women and then moved on to a non-existent land issue.”

“The Art of Living foundation has spent crores of rupees on the welfare and relief of the poor and can never think of doing injustice to anyone ever,” he added.

“While emphasising this and adhering to our stand, we also thank Sridhar for giving us an experience which we have never had. Ours is just one incident. There are many others who are reeling under the fear of money and muscle power and our sympathy and solidarity is with all of them.”

“The land in question was bought by the Art of Living after checking all legal documents from M Vijay at the market price in 2004 as we needed land to accommodate the large number of devotees coming in for the silver jubilee of the Art of Living in 2006. Incidentally, the gentleman who we purchased the land from happens to be a Brahmin and not a Dalit as was misinformed by Sridhar in his allegation.”

“The organisation has built toilets in many homes, made community centres in 20 villages around the ashram and is also giving free food along with education to 2,000 children of the neighbouring villages. Direct or indirect employment has been generated for hundreds of villagers around the ashram area.

“We urge the police to take action against forces who try to bring disharmony and thrive on false propagation. Our body of work over the past 30 years is known to all. We will continue to reach out to the masses with our development projects and stress-elimination programmes,” he concluded.

Govt will not stall Lamhaa’s release: G K Pillai

With Kashmir on the boil, one would think a film with the troubled valley as its theme could run into trouble with the government.

But Union Home Secretary G K Pillai says the government has no plans to stall the release of Lamhaa, which stars Sanjay Dutt, Anupam Kher, Bipasha Basu and Kunal Kapoor. Producer Bunty Walia’s film is slated to release on July 16.

The film, set in Kashmir, tells the story about a soldier played by Dutt and his Kashmiri love interest, played by a de-glamorised Basu. Parzania director Rahul Dholakia had made the film.

Pillai told Rediff.com that there is no plan to ban the movie or stall its release. “Our security forces are in place and capable of handling the situation,” he said.

The homse secretary felt that stalling or banning a movie is not the answer to the problem. “This is a democratic set-up and in a democracy people have the right to speak up and put forth their views. I am confident that the release of such a movie will not add to the existing problem,” he added.

Dholakia told Rediff.com that he is happy with the home secretary’s statement. “This is the right decision. It is the time to create an environment of trust so that the problems are solved. Kashmir is burning today and it is our responsibility to create an environment of trust,” the director said.

His movie, he added, is not reflective of the government’s views, but deals with the plight of resident Kashmiris. The film does not deal with the sentiments of India or Pakistan on this issue, he added. “We are just dealing with the state of the residents of that beautiful place.”

“I am hopeful that the movie will do well,” Dholakia said. His last film, starring Naseeruddin Shah and Sarika, is yet to be released in Gujarat.

‘I am going ahead with my resignation’

Karnataka Lokayukta Justice N Santhosh Hegde, whose resignation was rejected by Governor H R Bhardwaj on Thursday, has refused to reconsider his decision.

Speaking to rediff.com about his telephonic conversation with Home Minister P Chidambaram, Justice Hegde said it was merely a courtesy call.

“He has every right to call me since we have been friends since the past 40 years. He was obviously taken aback by my decision to quit so suddenly. The home minister asked me, ‘is it right for you to resign at a time when there is so much corruption in Karnataka’. He also asked me to reconsider my decision,” said Hegde.

Maintaining his tough stance on the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka which has completed two years in power, Hegde said it was unfortunate that the party had termed the home minister’s call as part of a political game.

“There is no politics involved in this and I can say that with conviction. I have told the home minister that the situation over here is not conducive to work. I also told him the same thing I had said while putting in my papers — it is not right for me to continue in a place where I cannot protect my own officers,” said Hegde.

When asked whether he would reconsider his decision to resign, Justice Hegde said that as of now, the answer was an ’emphatic no’.

“I have been under a lot of pressure not to go ahead with my resignation. Many lawyers came up to me with a memorandum urging me not to go ahead with my resignation. Let’s see what happens,” he said.

But the anti-corruption official added, “As of today, I am going ahead with my resignation.”