Farmers See True Colours of Dalit Minister

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Minister of State for Railways KH Muniyappa joins the land-grab hall of shame in Karnataka. Imran Khan reports

Acres of sorrow Dalit farmers claim that they were forced to sell their land for a pittance to minister Muniyappa
Acres of sorrow: Dalit farmers claim that they were forced to sell their land for a pittance to minister Muniyappa, Photo: Imran Khan

IT DOESN’T matter if they belong to the BJP or the Congress; politicians of all hues seem to be landing in trouble in Karnataka. The latest to join the hall of shame is Congress leader and Minister of State for Railways KH Muniyappa, who has been accused of willful non-declaration of assets and grabbing land worth more than Rs 200 crore from Dalit farmers using fraudulent means.

Acres of sorrow minister Muniyappa
KH Muniyappa, Photo: Shailendra Pandey

On 19 April 2011, a criminal complaint under Section 33(1) of the Representation of People Act and Rule (4) of the Conduct of Election Rules was filed against Muniyappa, 63, a six-time Congress MP from Kolar district. The complainant, BSP leader Marasandra Muniyappa, has accused his namesake of not declaring four acres in Survey No. 164 of Goramillahalli, Shidlaghatta taluk, Chikkaballapur district, in his nomination papers filed in 2009. Marasandra contends that the land was allotted to Muniyappa in 1972 and an order copy (No. LNDSR2115) was issued in his name in 1973.

Marasandra also alleges that nine acres in the name of Muniyappa’s wife Nagarathnamma (Survey No. 35/p13, 35/p1 and 35/p6 of Goramillahalli) has not been declared, leading to culpability and punishment under Section 125(A) of the Representation of People Act, which includes imprisonment for a term that may extend to six months or with fine or both.

According to his asset declaration in 2009, Muniyappa had moveable assets worth Rs 1.42 crore, immovable assets worth Rs 3.7 crore, and liabilities amounting to Rs 2.1 crore. A copy of the asset declaration available with TEHELKA finds no mention of the land in Chikkaballapur.

Muniyappa, a Madiga Dalit, has also been accused of trying to forcibly usurp land belonging to Dalits worth more than Rs 200 crore on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

“We were tricked by Muniyappa, who took 20 acres of our land for a paltry sum, promising that an educational institution will be built there, which will allow our children to get proper education, and our men to get government jobs. But no such thing happened,” says Lakshamma, 70, who, along with 33 other Dalit families, owns this land.

Around 50 acres was allotted to 33 Dalit families by the government in 1948. Five decades later, builders Dayananda Pai and Satish Pai claimed ownership of the land. The Dalit farmers pursued the case in the district courts and finally in 2005, the land was restored to them.

“In 2005, Muniyappa registered 20 acres in his aide Ramprasad’s name by giving Rs 25 lakh for 10 acres and another Rs 45 lakh for the other 10 acres, when the going rate was Rs 1 crore per acre,” says Manupoojappa, 50, a Dalit farmer. “We thought we will get Central government jobs and our children will have a great future if an educational institution for the upliftment of Madiga Dalits comes up. Our foolishness led us to believe him.”

Manupoojappa accused the minister of trying to forcibly grab the other 30 acres while his relative Hanumaiah claims that the minister intimidated the farmers to part with their land, whose value has skyrocketed due to its proximity to the newly opened Bengaluru International Airport.

“Even though we have submitted the relevant documents supporting our claim, the district administration has failed to pass an order against him,” adds Marasandra. “And it is not a single case: there are several more Dalit lands usurped by the minister through benami names of his family members, including his brother Doddamuniyappa, son Narasimharaju, and daughter Lakshmi.” According to Marasandra, the minister holds more than 84 acres under benami names.

Despite repeated attempts, the minister was unavailable for comment.

When contacted, Kolar Deputy Commissioner Manoj Kumar Meena said that the case of non-declaration of assets was filed a year ago, and it has come to its final stages after hearing both sides’ arguments. An order will be duly issued, he added without further divulging any details.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
imran@tehelka.com

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The Minister’s Rebuttal

In response to Tehelka’s queries, Muniyappa had this to say: “To file a case of non-declaration of assets, the aggrieved person should be either a candidate or a voter. In this case, the complainant belongs to neither category. We have replied to the complaint filed at the Kolar Deputy Commissioner’s office. Our argument was that the memorandum is wrong and politically motivated.” “I have declared my lands. As far as the land in my wife’s name is concerned, we had already sold it to another person. As for the Yeshwanthpur land, the matter is in court and I wouldn’t like to comment on it. However, not a single piece of that land is in my name.”

“I would also like to bring to your notice that in the case of state forest minister CP Yogeshwar, it has been ruled that the Deputy Commissioner has no power to take decision on matters related to non-declaration of assets.”

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