The FIR against SM Krishna is likely to open a can of worms for the Central minister, reports Imran Khan
The storm-tossed UPA-2 has been emphasising, after the arrest of former telecom minister A Raja in the 2G scam, that police have no evidence against any Congress minister. But even as allegations of Home Minister P Chidambaram’s complicity in the scam refuse to go away, an FIR was registered against External Affairs Minister SM Krishna for sanctioning illegal mining in Karnataka during his tenure as chief minister.
A Lokayukta court headed by Justice Sudhindra Rao ordered the police to investigate Krishna’s role in the de-reservation of thousands of acres of mineral-rich land in 1999-2004. The order came after Bengaluru-based social activist Abraham T Joseph filed a private complaint against SM Krishna, Dharam Singh and HD Kumaraswamy, all ex-CMs. In his complaint, Abraham stated, “Going by the records available with various reports of the government and Lokayukta investigations, it can be concluded that Krishna was responsible for large-scale illegal mining in the state and could be termed as the author of the mining scams.”
The Congress government under Krishna had de-reserved 1,620 sq km of land in the state for private mining in 2003, though both the forest minister and the secretary of the forest department opposed the move. Abraham has documents obtained via RTI from the state mines and geology department as proof of Krishna’s alleged involvement. In fact, the first mining report by former Lokayukta Santosh Hegde in 2008 does not name Krishna. But it severely severely indicts officials of the forest department and says that the decision to de-reserve forests “paved the way for distribution of public assets to select private individuals/entities without regard to their professional, technical or business background.”
When contacted, Justice Santosh Hegde remained neutral about Krishna’s role in the decision to grant contracts to private mining companies at a loss of over Rs 32 crore to the public sector company Mysore Minerals Ltd (MML). “The mines and geology department did not give me the information I required, even after I requested them. I could come to no conclusion regarding SM Krishna’s involvement,” he says. His report had indicted Kumaraswamy for causing loss to the exchequer.
However, officials in the Karnataka Lokayukta told TEHELKA that with the additional documents submitted by Joseph, they have sufficient evidence to probe whether Krishna favoured certain mining companies. A start would be the details of properties owned and investments made by Krishna and his son-in-law, submitted by Joseph to the Lokayukta court.
Krishna allegedly favoured Vijayanagar Mines Pvt Ltd by collecting premium on iron ore sold by the company at sub-market rates. MML lost over Rs 10 crore when Krishna was CM, because the mines and geology department and MML did not revise the price of iron ore fines sold by another private company, Goa Pvt Ltd. But the most suspicious deal MML entered into was with Kalyani Ferrous Industries Ltd. The company paid Rs 6 crore as sales advance for iron ore it purchased from MML. The contract obligated MML to pay interest to the company at 10 percent per annum on its deposit, which was not so in contracts with other companies. The amount paid as interest until 2007 was Rs 2.5 crore.
According to his lawyer, Krishna has contended that he had not committed “any illegality or irregularity” in de-reserving mineral-rich forests. He says he was not in charge of the mines and geology department and has termed the complaint merely an attempt at character assassination. He did not respond to repeated requests by TEHELKA for any comments.
Sources in the Lokayukta’s office told TEHELKA that the state government had directed the agency last month to extend the probe to cover the period of Kumaraswamy’s and Krishna’s tenures. If the HC allows the probe to proceed, it would be a major setback to the state Congress, which was looking to come back to power under SM Krishna’s leadership.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.