Karnataka Lokayukta indicts Industries Minister Murugesh Nirani and Home Minister R Ashoka in new land scams. Imran Khan has the details
AFTER FORMER chief minister BS Yeddyurappa and the infamous Reddy brothers, it’s the turn of the other ministers and Yeddy loyalists in the BJP-led Karnataka government. The state BJP, which has already seen four ministers behind bars might have to witness the embarrassment of seeing two more ministers following suit in land-related scams.
The latest leader to land in trouble is Medium and Large-Scale Industries Minister Murugesh R Nirani, who has accumulated a long list of corruption charges over the past three years. These include awarding government contracts to companies he owned, illegally denotifying government land and mortgaging land that had earlier been given by the government to another company.
Nirani, a Lingayat and staunch Yeddyurappa loyalist, has also been charged with awarding a three-star hotel contract to his wife, while presiding as the chairman of the state committee for project clearance. Earlier, he managed to get a power theft case against himself dropped thanks to the clout he enjoyed with Yeddyurappa.
Nirani, who credits himself with bringing investments worth Rs 4 lakh crore to Karnataka through the Global Investors Meet (GIM) organised in June 2010, has been found guilty of awarding contracts to companies floated by his near and dear ones. Incidentally, when the contracts were awarded, the companies were either nonexistent or dormant. It was later discovered that huge tracts of land in the state were diverted to these shell companies.
DOCUMENTS AVAILABLE with TEHELKA show that at least in three instances, the state government entered into Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with non-existent companies. An estimated 1,080 acres have been allotted to these companies, which are located in Bagalkot, the home district of the minister. The total worth of these three MOUs has been estimated to be around Rs 2,100 crore.
MRN Sugars and Power Ltd, an unregistered company named after the minister, was awarded the contract by the state for setting up a Rs 300 crore sugar plant during GIM 2010. Nearly 200 acres in Bijapur district was given to the company for this purpose. When Nirani realised that the name MRN was already taken, he floated a new company — Vijayshree Sugars and Power Ltd on 24 January 2011. The state government promptly sanctioned the transfer of approval to the new company on 1 March at the 24th state high-level clearance committee meeting. Interestingly, the panel was headed by Nirani.
Similar is the case of Shakti Steel and Power Industries and Sai Priya Sugars Ltd. The former, an unregistered company and the later a dormant one, went on to sign MOUs with the state government at GIM 2010. Shakti was awarded the contract for setting up a Rs 1,500 crore steel plant in Bagalkot and 580 acres were allotted for this project. Sai Priya Sugars was allowed to set up a Rs 300 crore sugar plant in Bagalkot, for which 300 acres was allotted.
Dilip Desai, who owns the company name MRN Sugars and Power Ltd, says, “I had registered this name after I came to know that Nirani was trying to do the same. We have some issues with the minister, hence we wanted to see to it that he is not able to register it.”
Industries minister Nirani awarded government contracts and denotified land to his own companies
Desai, an industrialist, has been at loggerheads with Nirani since the minister thwarted his attempt to set-up a sugar mill in Bijapur. In the end, Desai got the project cleared and is constructing a plant.
Desai adds, “What surprises me is that the state government entered into a contract with an unregistered company. It is illegal and a violation of law. Even after a year, on the insistence of the minister, the state pollution control board conducted a public hearing of a fictitious company. It is a 100 percent criminal offence.”
During the GIM, the minister awarded a three-star hotel contract to his wife Kamala. This project in the industrial area of Bagalkot, worth 7.5 crore, was allotted 10 acres and was cleared by Nirani himself.
Details of Nirani’s illegalities came out when he shortchanged Alam Pasha, managing director of Pash Space International. In two instances, land allotted to Pasha was diverted by Nirani to other firms.
“My housing project was cancelled by Nirani on the basis of a forged letter,” alleges Pasha, who had proposed to build 2,500 houses for the economically weaker sections at Devanahalli, near Bengaluru International Airport.
The 26-acre project worth Rs 600 crore, which was approved during GIM 2010, was cancelled when somebody forged Pasha’s signature on the company letterhead stating that Pash Space is not interested in going ahead with the housing project.
In a complaint submitted to Karnataka Governor HR Bhardwaj on 28 March, Pasha alleged that the state high-level clearance committee headed by Nirani “conspired to fabricate the letter” and “passed a resolution to suit its needs”.
Pasha also said in his complaint that the same 26 acres was later allotted to a prominent Bengaluru-based real estate company. In another instance, land allotted to Pash Space International in 2006 was given to Prisac Housing Constructions by Nirani.
In his complaint to the Lokayukta, Pasha alleged that the minister has denotified prime land close to the Bengaluru airport. According to Pasha, land in Survey No. 124, 125 and 126 of Hoovinaikanahalli, measuring 20 acres, and 150 acres in Kengelkempohalli, Chandhanavasahalli, Averhalli and other villages at Dabaspet Industrial Area of Nelmangala Taluk, Bengaluru, were denotified by Nirani causing a loss of Rs 200 crore to the state exchequer. Based on Pasha’s complaint, the Lokayukta court has asked its police to file a report by 16 November.
Commenting about all the above allegations, Nirani has just one answer: “baseless allegations”. He says, “I’ve made no mistakes and we have done everything as per procedure.”
Meanwhile, another highprofile BJP leader feeling the heat in the denotification scam is Home Minister R Ashoka. The Lokayukta police has booked a case against him for denotifying lands in prime areas of Bengaluru. The land in question is 9.73 guntas (1,177 sq yards) at Lottegollahalli in Bengaluru North taluk, which was earlier acquired by the Bangalore Development Authority.
In December 2009, contrary to the rules, the above lands were denotified by Yeddyurappa to favour Ashoka. Prior to the denotification, Ashoka had purchased both these properties worth Rs 15 crore for just Rs 45 lakh, a blatant violation of law. The Lokayukta court has asked its police to submit a report by 5 November. If proven guilty, Ashoka might have to step down from his post.
Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com.