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The man who took on the mining mafia in Karnataka

Last updated on: June 13, 2012 14:54 IST

The man who took on the mining mafia in Karnataka

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Vicky Nanjappa Bengaluru

Bringing down the powerful mining lobby in Karnataka that looted the state while abusing power openly was no ordinary task. It was the various reports and the petitions filed before the Supreme Court by S R Hiremath which finally brought the ones involved in the multi-crore mining scam to justice.

Hiremath, 66, an engineering graduate returned to India 1979 from the United States. He has been an activist since the past 30 years and is the founder of the Samaja Parivarthana Samudaya in Dharwad, Karnataka in 1984.

It was 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 a probe.

The gross misuse of power in Karnataka is only second to the Emergency imposed by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, says Hiremath.

In this interview with rediff.com's Vicky Nanjappa, Hiremath says that illegal mining is a criminality which was started under the Congress regime of the then chief minister S M Krishna, thanks to his (then) minister D K Shivakumar and this is a fact he plans on exposing with enough evidence in August before the Supreme Court.

Are you satisfied with the way things have turned out? Mining baron Janardhan Reddy is in jail and Yeddyurappa is mired in a CBI probe for illegal mining.

I came back here from the US many years ago, so that can take up various issues and lead a responsible life. The fight has been tough; the path has been very hard, but yes I am satisfied today although there is much work remaining.

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Image: A mining operation in Bellary. (inset) social activist Hiremath


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Bringing down the powerful mining lobby in Karnataka that looted the state while abusing power

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Bellary virtually had its own 'constitution' and was commonly known as the 'Republic of Bellary'. Were you under threat when you were going about doing your work on illegal mining?

It is a little surprising, even for me, that there were hardly any threats. The Reddy brothers (Gali Janardhana, Karunakara and Somashekara) are very rough and murderous people in some ways. However, there was only one threat call which was made to a friend of mine by someone caliming to be supporters of 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 huge amounts of money involved?

I would not say it was easy. It required a lot of ground work. What I noticed is that after the Emergency, 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 realised is that fear and democracy can never go hand in hand. Illegal mining commenced when Shivakumar was the minister, and then continued with Janardhan Reddy under B S Yeddyurappa.

This was a challenge to expose all this and it was staring into our faces. We may or may not reach a logical conclusion, but we will keep trying.

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Image: Former Karnataka chief minister and now External Affairs Minister S M Krishna


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'Illegal mining has come to a halt'

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Has illegal mining come to a halt today?

As far as I know, illegal mining has come to a grinding halt, barring some unusual circumstances. This is only thanks to the Central Empowerment Committee and the Supreme Court. More importantly, the manner in which the orders were implemented were also commendable.

Reddy's operations were 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 Yeddyurappa got caught while Krishna managed to get away. Your thoughts?

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 Shivakumar. There was total misuse and abuse of power. This was continued during the 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 making charges -- that won't stand in a court of law.

I personally do not venture into something unless I have impeccable evidence. At the time we went to court there was no evidence against Shivakumar who was a big player in the Krishna government.

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Image: Former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy


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So, are they let off the hook or are you planning on doing something about it?

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So, are they let off the hook or are you planning on doing something about it?

Wait until July. Over the last seven months, we have collected a lot of material against Shivakumar, and now we will go ahead and file it. You can be rest assured that we shall spare no one involved in this. We did not want to go before the court, merely file charges and get the petition thrown out.

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 former chief minister Dharam Singh regimes of the Congress. Dharam Singh did nothing but continued to support the criminal acts committed by the earlier regime.

And yes before you ask, let me also tell you that the cases of illegal mining during the regime of former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy are also being taken up. 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 allegedly tried to bribe a judge in Andhra Pradesh. The illegalities may have come down, but why hasn't the mindset changed?

That is a very good point. We have submitted many a document before the court and these do reveal the modus operandi of the illegal mining community. This threatens to break down the rule of law. We have often said that the major cause for the breakdown is the mindset.

They continue to think that everything is purchasable. This will change very soon. Our future admissions before the SC 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 (Anil) Lads and the Shivkumars from the Congress leading a protest against illegal mining, which according to me is the biggest joke.

So, are they let off the hook or are you planning on doing something about it?

Wait until July. Over the last seven months, we have collected a lot of material against Shivakumar, and now we will go ahead and file it. You can be rest assured that we shall spare no one involved in this. We did not want to go before the court, merely file charges and get the petition thrown out.

 

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 former Chief Minister Dharam Singh regimes of the Congress. Dharam Singh did nothing but continued to support the criminal acts committed by the earlier regime.

 

And yes before you ask, let me also tell you that the cases of illegal mining during the regime of former Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy are also being taken up. 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 mindset changed?

That is a very good point. We have submitted many a document before the court and these do reveal the modus operandi of the illegal mining community. This threatens to break down the rule of law. We have often said that the major cause for the breakdown is the mindset.

 

They continue to think that everything is purchasable. This will change very soon. Our future admissions before the SC 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 Anil Lad and the Shivkumars from the Congress leading a protest against illegal mining, which according to me is the biggest joke.

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Image: S M Krishna, H D Kumaraswamy and N Dharam Singh


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'We found clinching evidence which was missing'

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The Lokayukta report on illegal mining was virtually thrown out by the high court, while the Supreme Court wholeheartedly acted on the one you submitted. Why?

I have always believed in Newton's theory that if I could look beyond it is by standing on the shoulder of the giant. In the past three decades I have seen many reports. But let me tell you that the reports of former Lokayukta Justice Santhosh Hegde in 2008-2011 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 SC.

While the groundwork was laid down by the Lokayukta, we found clinching evidence which was missing. The Lokayukta's work and later by us should be seen as developments in sequence which led us to this ultimately.

When Justice Hegde's team was criminally intimidated, it 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 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 Bharatiya Janata Party and trounce his former party in a by-poll. Your thoughts, sir.

As far as I am concerned we are not 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 2,000 crore to the 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 indicates that he too is guilty in the scam. The law has its limitations and takes it own course, but 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 SC to seek justice and we have got it. However one cannot expect the Supreme Court to run the government of Karnataka. The government has to run on its own. Why has a Lokayukta not been appointed as yet? That, to me is criminal neglect.


Image: A mining operation in Bellary. Picture for representation only


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