State picks 'tainted' firm for mining lease, draws flak

The State has recommended to the Centre that a mining lease be granted to a company owned by the Baldotas, a Karnataka-based business family.

The recommendation has raised eyebrows as it does not specify the exact area of land to be sanctioned for mining. But, a sketch accompanying the recommendation indicates 307.62 hectares (ha) as the area available for grant.

The recommendation is the first such since the mining scam came to light a few years ago. The land in question is located at Kumaraswamy Range in Sandur taluk, Ballari district.

The 307.62 ha indicated in the sketch includes 149.57 ha that had been allotted to another company KISPL (Kariganur Iron Steel Pvt Ltd ) in February 2004, but the company had not commenced mining. The recommendation order (No: CI 154 MPP 2009) passed on November 5, 2014 withdraws the allotment of 149.57 ha to KISPL. Going by the sketch, this land is slated for allotment to the Baldotas’ company MSPL. 

Secretary (Mines) Tushar Girinath told Deccan Herald that though it was not mentioned in words, the area withdrawn from KISPL is not included in the recommendation. According to him, the recommendation in favour of MSPL is only to an extent of 158.05 hectares, exclusive of 149.57 hectares (withdrawn), 132.50 hectares (vegetation) and 89.88 hectares (overlapping). “It is part of government proceedings and I cannot comment much. I can say that the lease recommended is exclusive of extent of land withdrawn,” he said. But the order for recommendation does not specifically state that the withdrawn area of 149.57 ha has been excluded.
The covering letter of the order also says another sketch of the recommended area “with GPS co-ordinates will be dispatched at the earliest.”

Social activist and co-petitioner before the Supreme Court Green Bench S R Hiremath said that the State government should not recommend any fresh mining lease to companies which are under investigation. “What was the hurry to send it with a sketch which shows more area. We have found startling cases of corruption against Ramgadh Minerals and Mining Pvt Ltd (RMPL), also owned by the Baldotas. There have been quid pro quo transactions between the trust run by former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa’s kin and Ramgadh Minerals. The transfer of mining lease in favour of RMPL and MSPL was done allegedly after receiving kickbacks without forest clearance. How can government recommend fresh lease for such a company,” he asked.

Hiremath said that the CBI’s final report on the list of donors to Prerana Trust includes contributions of Rs 3 crore, Rs 2 crore from RMPL and Rs 1 crore from MSPL, flagship companies of the Baldotas. There is also purchase of shares worth Rs 11 crore by the Baldotas in a company owned by the then BJP legislator Lehar Singh’s son, he said.

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