The return of B S Yeddyurappa to the BJP and the inclusion of D K Shivakumar and Roshan Baig into the Congress cabinet in Karnataka has not gone down too well with anti corruption activists in the state.
Justice Santhosh Hegde whose report on illegal mining forced Yeddyurappa to step down as Chief Minister says that when it comes to the issue of corruption all political parties are the same.
Such actions only go on to show the honesty of political parties, he tells rediff.com.
The great Isaac Newton said, “If I could look beyond it is by standing on the shoulders of the giant.” To bring down the powerful mining lobby in Karnataka which looted the state while abusing power shamelessly was no ordinary task. It was the various reports and the petitions filed before the Supreme Court of India by S R Hiremath which finally brought the ones involved in the multimillion crore mining scam to justice.
The 66 year old Hiremath, an engineering graduate who was working in the United States of America returned to India in the year 1979. He has been an activist since the past 30 years and is the founder of the Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya (SPS) in Dharwad in 1984. It was the petitions filed by him that put former Chief Minister of Karnataka, B S Yeddyurappa in a spot of bother as a result of which the Central Bureau of Investigation started to probe his case. The gross misuse of power in Karnataka is only second to the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi, says Hiremath. Hiremath says in this interview with rediff.com that illegal mining is a criminality which was started under the Congress regime of S M Krishna thanks to his then cabinet minister, D K Shivakumar and this is a fact we plan on exposing with enough evidence in the month of August before the Supreme Court of India.
Are you satisfied with the way things have turned out. Reddy is in jail and Yeddyurappa is mired in a CBI probe for illegal mining.
I came back here from the United States many years back so that I took take up various issues and lead a responsible life. The fight has been tough the path very hard, but yes I am satisfied today although there is a lot more work remaining.
Bellary had its own constitution and has been named as the Republic of Bellary. Were you under threat when you were going about doing your work on illegal mining?
It is kind of surprising even for me that there were hardly any threats. The Reddy brothers are very rough and murderous people in some ways. It is surprising that as of today there have been no threat call made to me or any of my other friends working with me from the Reddy brothers. There are both men and women working in the field on this issue and they have not been threatened. However there was one threat call which was made to a friend of mine from the supporters of B S Yeddyurappa. I feel this may have to do with the fact that we are committed to development of the rural folk and we have conducted ourselves in a proper manner which is probably the reason why we have not been threatened.
How difficult was it to deal with this issue considering the money involved was obscene?
I would not say it was one bit easy. It required a lot of ground work. What I noticed is that after the emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi where the press was muscled and people were sent to jail without a trial, Karnataka came only second to the gross misuse of power. The previous generations have given their lives for freedom and it is our duty to preserve it. What I have realized is that fear and democracy can never go hand in hand. Illegal mining commenced with D K Shivakumar under S M Krishna and then continued with Gali Janardhan Reddy under B S Yeddyurappa. This was a challenge to expose all this and it was staring into our face. This was a challenge and we decided to take it up. We may or may not reach a logical conclusion, but we will keep trying.
Has illegal mining come to a halt today?
Illegal mining as far as I know has come to a grinding halt barring some unusual circumstances. This is only thanks to the Central Empowerment Committee and the Supreme Court of India. More importantly the manner in which the orders were implemented were also commendable. Reddy’s administration was disabled and mining was stopped. It was necessary that mining was banned in Karnataka in order for the agencies to probe it properly. The CEC had in fact stated that it would not be wise to ban mining, but we insisted that it be done in order to curb further illegalities and investigate properly.
There is always this allegation that B S Yeddyurappa got caught while S M Krishna managed to get away. What are your thoughts about this?
Although Yeddyurappa and Krishna represent two different worlds there is hardly any difference in what went on during their respective regimes. It was during Krishna’s regime that the criminality of illegal mining started under D K Shivakumar. There was total misuse and abuse of power. This was continued during the B S Yeddyurappa regime.
Despite you saying this why has Krishna gotten away?
He has not. You should understand that it is important that all the evidence has to be meticulously brought in together. What has been happening against the Krishna regime is that people are merely throwing in the charges and that is good enough in a court of law. When there is no proper evidence there is no point in going before the court. I personally do not venture into something unless I have impeccable evidence. At the time we went to court there was no proper evidence against Congressman D K Shivakumar who was a big player in the Krishna government. So, are they let off the hook or are you planning on doing something about it?
Wait until July. We have over the last seven months collected a lot of material against D K Shivakumar. There is now evidence against Shivakumar and we will go ahead and file it. You can be rest assured that we shall spare none involved in this. We did not want to go before the court, merely file charges and get the petition thrown out. Remember when one goes before the court seeking justice, the onus is on us to give evidence and that is what we are doing. We have no personal hatred against anyone, be it Yeddyurappa or Krishna. In our petitions in July we plan on combing both the Krishna and Dharam Singh regimes of the Congress. Dharam Singh did nothing but continued to support the criminal acts committed by the earlier regime of Krishna. And yes before you ask, let me also tell you that the cases of illegal mining during the regime of H D Kumaraswamy are also being taken up. We do not want to cut a sorry figure before the court when we take up these cases. We will deal with them exactly in the manner in which we dealt with the cases against Yeddyurappa and his ministers. This kind of criminality has to be dealt with a firm hand or else it will become a banana republic.
Despite all this Janardhan Reddy tried to bribe a judge in Andhra Pradesh. The illegalities may have come down, but why hasn’t the mind set changed?
That is a very good point that you raise. We have submitted many a document before the court and these do reveal the modus operandi of the illegal mining community. This poses a great threat and threatens to break down the rule of law. We have often said that the major cause for the break down is the mind set that these people have. They thought and continue to think that everything is purchasable and this will change very soon. Our future admissions before the Supreme Court would be on these aspects and we also plan on bringing in the names of 40 prominent traders and also the manner in which they misused the system. This will have to change or else you will continue to have the likes of the Lads and the Shivkumars from the Congress leading a protest against illegal mining, which according to me is the biggest joke.
The Lokayukta report on illegal mining was virtually thrown out by the High Court, while the Supreme Court whole heatedly acted on the one you submitted on the subject of illegal mining. Why is this the case?
I have always believed in Newton’s theory that if I could look beyond it is by standing on the shoulder of the giant. The more important thing is that we need to bring in justice. In the past three decades I have seen many reports. But let me tell you that the reports of Justice Santhosh Hegde in the years 2008 and 2011 have been the best. One must not forget that the meticulous job done by him and his team, the raids and also the seizure of documents helped us a great deal in the taking the matter up to the Supreme Court. While the ground work was laid by the Lokayukta, what we did further was find clinching evidence which was missing. The work done by the Lokayukta and later by us should be seen as developments in sequence which led us to this ultimately. The lack of time the events of paramount importance in which Justice Hegde’s team was criminally intimidated did not deter him and he went on with his work. In his first report he names Dharam Singh, but as far as the higher illegalities of Shivakumar under Krishna were not brought to the forefront probably for want of evidence. These aspects will be covered by us.
B Sriramulu is another major player in this scam. However he appears to be on a roll where he can come out of the BJP and trounce his former party in a by-poll. Your thoughts sir.
As far as I am concerned we are enemies of any particular party. The CBI is probing this case and I am sure they will get to him too. There is monumental evidence against him despite that with no shame he says that they had given Rs 2000 crore to BJP to fight elections in Karnataka apart from Rs 10 crore every month. Now where has this kind of money come from? There is mine known as Lakshmi mines which belong to Sriramulu and his wife. When the commercial taxes officer goes to find out why the tax had not been paid, he gets a flurry of calls from officials. In fact one of the officials even had the audacity to tell the commercial tax official that he should get out of the premises. All this indicate that he too is guilty in the scam. Law has its limitations and takes it own course and trust me the CBI is waiting to get to him.
What changes do you see in the administration in Karnataka today?
Not much really. We have knocked on the doors of the Supreme Court to seek justice and we have got it. However one cannot expect the Supreme Court to run the government of Karnataka and I am afraid that it is not functioning at the moment. The government has to run on its own. Why has a Lokayukta not been appointed as yet? That to me is criminal neglect.
The Reddy brothers of Karnataka should be given the same treatment that both Indira Gandhi and Sanjay Gandhi were given by the people when they were both sent back home. S R Hiremath of the Samaj Parivartana Samudaya which has been battling the issue of illegal mining the most rampant activity in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh says that there is very little one can expect from any government in Karnataka regarding this issue.
I however feel that with the right intervention of the authorities and the Supreme Court of India, the days of the Reddy brothers are numbered. In this interview, Hiremath says that they have ample documents on hand and have all been submitted to the Supreme Court and if acted upon then it would surely bring about the end of illegal mining in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
Tell us about the litigation.
We have filed a public interest litigation through our senior advocate Prashanth Bhushan way back in the year 2009. Along with the PIL we have clubbed reports of the Lokayukta along with various other documents.
What have you sought in this PIL?
In this 1274 page petition that we have filed, we want action against illegal mining which the governments are unable to take. The whole idea is to bring about some control to illegal mining. The Karnataka government instead of controlling it is only helping the rise of illegal mining. Moreover there are so many reports which nail these persons involved in illegal mining but the government and its officials ensure that no action is taken.
There is already a Lokayukta report on the issue. What would be your role in the middle of all this?
The Lokayukta report nails many persons, but unfortunately has not been implemented. Our job would be to bring the executive before the judiciary in order to make them work, which unfortunately they have not been doing so far.
What is the status of the PIL in the Supreme Court?
The court has issued a directive to the Central Empowerment Committee to prepare a report on illegal mining.
There appears to be a delay in the proceedings before the Supreme Court.
When we filed the PIL, Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan headed the forest Bench. We wanted to wait for his retirement and then move the matter. We finally did it when Justice Kapadia took over.
Why were you waiting for the retirement of Justice Balakrishnan?
I would not want to mention the obvious reasons for that.
There have been many hearings before the CEC. What have you sought from them?
We have sought the cancellation of the mining leases belonging to the Reddys. We made a 499 page submission to this effect.
You speak of proof against the Reddy brothers. Can you share some of them with us?
We have put together a map which shows that the Reddy brothers encroached into the Forest area of Bellary. They have also destroyed a temple in the same area due to their greed to mine some more. The CEC was impressed with this and they had recommended
cancellation of the lease.
Speaking about official apathy, can you point out an instance please?
I had visited the Ramgad village in Sandur Taluk, Bellary. There is a Ram Malai block here where the mining is rampant. I had met with the forest department officials. A month later I met with the additional Principal Conservator of Forests regarding the same. However he refused to go ahead with this work and said he would speak with the conservator. Despite reminding him that the conservator was not doing anything, he still did not react.
Why do you think this is the case?
We all know who are the most powerful people in Bellary. The government has come to a grinding halt in Bellary and the officers are all hand picked. The CEC however visited these areas which we have been speaking about and later there was a presentation at the Vidhan Soudha in Bangalore. The presentation by the government of Karnataka was a very general one speaking about what they were doing to control illegal mining. However when they were asked for specific instances, they did cut a real sorry figure.
Could you be more specific about the case against the Reddy brothers?
I spoke about the Ramgad area. We have seen a company called Park Line operate from there. Had we not gone there they would have broken down a Rama temple over there to further their mining greed. These Reddy brothers have been saying that they have no mining in Karnataka. We have documents showing how Janardhan Reddy and his wife were brought in as partners into the Associated Mining Company which operates in Karnataka. The mining by them is rampant in the Ramgad area which has 220 million tones of rich iron ore. In addition to this we have submitted documents which speak about their complex financial maneuvering which they did with the Black Gold mines in Karnataka. We have submitted the lease deed of the Associated Mining Company as well. Further to this we have also submitted details regarding the manner in which they ship ore at very low costs in order to dodge tax when in reality the shipment reaches elsewhere are a very high price.
Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa says he is serious about stopping illegal mining. Your thoughts on that.
The CM has more statements than political will. That is all I have to say.
When people speak of mining, they associate the BJP with it. Don’t you think all other parties too have their share of interest?
As I have studied for the last few years there are mining sharks in every party. S M Krishna, Dharam Singh, H D Kumaraswamy and B S Yeddyurappa all have got support from illegal mining. I feel all these persons must be held accountable. However the reason why the Reddy brothers get associated everytime is because they have taken it to a whole new level.
I have been wanting to ask you about the Sushma Swaraj link to the mining lobby in Karnataka.
The association between Sushma and the Reddy brothers goes a long way back when she contested the polls against Sonia Gandhi. I would not be able to say what her interests in mining is, but what I hear is that she is the one who suggested to the Reddy brothers to enter into mining. I must also add that she has double standards.
This is an inter state menace and even Andhra Pradesh is involved. Do you see that government to be more receptive to your demands?
After the death of Dr YSR, the Reddys here lost all support from AP. Today I can say some right noises are being made in AP. AP will at least act. They may not be perfect, but today the officers are far more assertive and have been giving better reports. In Karnataka I have no hope. Don’t forget Yeddyurappa who had transferred some corrupt officials out of Bellary had to reinstate them when the Reddy brothers threatened to withdraw support.
Do you see the issue ever being resolved?
Yes I think it would be sorted out. I feel that their days are numbered. The people should do the same thing to the Reddys what they did to Indira and Sanjay Gandhi post emergency. That day is not too far according to me and I hope the officials act in a better manner when dealing with this problem.