'Ban on mining was very necessary to jolt the system'

'Ban on mining was very necessary to jolt the system'

Iron ore rich Bellary district began witnessing administration in its true sense in February 2011, when officials of certain investigating agencies and the deputy commissioner Amlan Aditya Biswas began setting their hawkish eyes on the members of illegal mining cartel led by Janardhana Reddy & Co.

The spotlight has not shifted from Biswas, 43, since the day he pounced on the Reddys’ gang members who were into illegal iron ore business without a pause from mid-2000. Biswas ensured suspension of mining temporarily as per the Supreme Court order, seized several trucks transporting ore dug illegally and confiscated tonnes of ore. He has been a witness to the fall of the Reddy’s ‘empire’ built on the ill gotten wealth.

The IAS officer, whose posting has continued till date in Bellary due to the positive intervention of the SC, has his hands full as he had to gear up for Lok Sabha polls as well. In Bellary, Every election has been a grudge match in this politically hyper active and sensitive district. Creating a fear-free environment and curtailing bribing of voters has been a huge challenge for him.

Biswas is playing many roles. Besides being DC and the district returning officer for elections, he is an invitee member on the Supreme Court appointed monitoring committee which is managing e-auctioning of iron ore. He is assisting Indian Council of Forest Research and Council implementing the Reclamation and Rehabilitation (R&R) action plan in Bellary, Chitradurga and Tumkur. He is a nodal officer for the CBI, Bellary. The CBI, Enforcement Directorate and Special Investigation Team have been probing into the multi crore mining scam spread over three districts. Asha Krishnaswamy of Deccan Herald spoke to Biswas, who is not yet tired of tackling the goons in the mining sector. Excerpts:

How has been your experience of handling the mining related issues and the people
involved in it?

Initially it was difficult as the administration was in the grip of a fear psychosis. It looked as though the subordinate staff was silently mocking at me I wouldn’t last long. Illegal mining operators initially were not worried and civil in their behaviour. But once the crackdown on illegality began, their real face surfaced. Efforts began to get rid of me from the district. But by then the CEC put a brake on my transfer. So, it became easier to handle the mining illegality. To bring the administration back on track, I had to personally follow up even the smallest issues.

With mining activity curbed to a large extent, revenue and employment generation have been hit hard. Will the industry see revival in the near future?

It is agriculture and not mining a major revenue or employment generating sector here. Not more than 20,000 of the total 25 lakh population were directly employed during the ore boom period. About 15 per cent of them were from outside the state, and it is difficult to say that they are still unemployed because they have moved out of the district. In the District Gross Domestic Product, the revenue generated by mining had never crossed 5 per cent. Illegal mining was not paying revenue to the country but exporting the stolen produce to China and Pakistan.

A few persons made windfall gains and minuscule portion of the illegal gains were re-distributed in the form of bribe to voters. It has created a vicious circle that even the government welfare schemes used to get tampered with. The ban on mining was very necessary to jolt the system. The conditions imposed now for mining looks stringent only to those who want to sacrifice inter-generational equity for immediate profit. We need to conserve natural wealth for posterity too. Officials and elected representatives should work in tandem to ensure a district witnesses orderly development.

But here you have been at loggerheads with legislators turned businessmen, in particular those of the BJP...

I am not at loggerheads with anyone. I am a government servant working within the boundaries of law. I have no political ideology. I had worked with equal effectiveness under the BJP-led government. The major part of my work as DC in Haveri, Chitradurga and Bellary was when the BJP was in power. DCs have limited role in executing major chunk of development as it is done by the ZP, TP and GP troika, which is independent of the DC.

The implementation of CEC’s Social and Ecological Plan for restoring environment and human rehabilitation in three districts has been very slow. How much money is required to implement the plan?

The plan has been challenged in court. The R&R in the mines are being implemented rapidly compared to the number of years it took to do the damage. May be Rs 25,000 crore to Rs 30,000 crore over the next 10 years would be required for carrying out the R&R. At optimum levels, even 15 per cent contribution from mining operators would be ideal. But nothing can fully compensate the devastation of nature.

Your experience of handling the Reddys and their henchmen?

Mostly they have been polite and civil in person but impatient occasionally. If there were veiled verbal threats, I was too thick skinned to let that affect my single minded pursuit of implementing the law. In public, however, there have been attempts to malign me by levelling false charges. At times the crony media has stooped to the level of making personal attacks on my family.

You have been accused of parting with thousands of acres of land to various government agencies when you were DC of Chitradurga from 2007 to 2011....

It was the state cabinet decision to give public land for projects of defence, national security, scientific and educational research. The fallow land was sanctioned to the Centre. For sanctioning government land for public purpose, no hearing or audit is required.