KARNATAKA IRON-ORE MINING SCAM
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.
Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa has recently admitted that 35 lakh (3.5 million) metric tonnes of iron ore have gone unaccounted for.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 chief minister even claimed that 4.8 million tons had been smuggled out in 2007-2008.
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.
The Karnataka government, which recently took steps to restrict the export of iron ore, has received over 1,000 applications including from top steelmakers such as ArcelorMittal India, the Tata Group and the JSW Group, to mine for iron ore in the one of the state’s largest resource blocks.
This is the first time in 10 years that Karnataka has offered a large area of land-—spread over 6,400 acres in the mineralrich region of Bellary.
Karnataka’s department of mines has selected two blocks in Ramanadurga and Kumaraswamy Hill range regions, estimated to contain more than 200 million tonnes of iron ore. “We have applied for a mining lease in this aforementioned block,” a spokesperson for ArcelorMittal India confirmed. The world’s largest steelmaker, has already announced plans to build a 6 million tonne steel plant in Bellary district, which will be spread over 4,000 acres. It has already initiated the process of acquiring land. Other applicants for the mining lease include Posco, Tata Metalliks, Essar Steel and also the controversial Reddy brothers who own Brahmani Steel.
In the course of the Bilikere Port Scam some three-and-a-half million tons of iron ore disappeared. That disappearance is no optical illusion, the ore seems to be gone for good. And neither the vanished iron nor the disgusted resignation of Karnataka’s Lok Ayukta, Justice N Santosh Hegde, has stirred a fraction of the wrath caused by the ‘vanishing’ of the Taj Mahal.
Three-and-a-half million tons is not a small amount. To put that into perspective, the Empire State Building in New York weighs ‘only’ 365,000 tons.
The scam came to light when R Gokul, then deputy conservator of forests, found some 800,000 tons of iron ore lying illegally in the port of Bilikere. The officer filed a case against several firms. For his pains R Gokul was suspended by J Krishna Palemar, who holds both the environment and the ports portfolios in the B S Yeddyurappa ministry.
“The lorries carry 30 tonnes of iron ore when the capacity is just 16 tonnes. They use the same old permits and get past the checkposts. More importantly, these permits are accompanied with a chit, which is an indication that the lorries must not be stopped,” K C Kondaiah, member of the legislative assembly from Bellary who has filed a petition before the Karnataka high court regarding illegal mining claims.
Mining lords have picked up several unemployed youth and have provided them with fancy bikes. In addition, they are given food, Rs 500 per day and a mobile phone. Their job is to make regular trips in the town and also on the highways apart from accompanying these lorries.