New Delhi: The somewhat-fragile BJP government in Karnataka has been dealt another blow: an expert committee has ruled that cabinet ministers, the Reddy brothers, have been running an illegal mining empire across the border in Andhra Pradesh, and that their mining licenses should be cancelled.
The report of the Centrally Empowered Committee (CEC), set up by the Supreme Court, says that G Janardhana Reddy and his brother Karunakara Reddy have been mining in areas demarcated as Forest Areas since 2004.
The report says that the Reddy brothers in Andhra Pradesh were allowed to do this "with the connivance of Andhra Pradesh government officials."
The committee says that the Reddys' three mines extracted more minerals than were permitted in their leases. It recommends that the brothers therefore pay "exemplary compensation" for mining in reserved forest areas.
The CEC was appointed to examine six mines on the Andhra-Karnataka border. Based on its report, the Supreme Court will also examine the larger issue of mining in forest areas.
Reacting to the report's findings against his Oballapuram mines, Janardhana Reddy said, "It's totally with a prejudiced mind, it is totally against us. When time comes I will tell the names of the politicians of this country who want to finish the steel industry and the Janardhana Reddy family." (Watch)
"We are going to file our objections before the Supreme Court," he added - the Reddys have been given 15 days to respond to the charges against them.
The thousands of crores generated every year by their Oballapuram mines allowed the Reddy brothers to pack a heavy punch in the political ring in Karnataka. Their wealth and clout in the area of Bellary emboldened them to lead a gigantic rebellion against their chief minister B S Yeddyurappa - one he barely survived. In Delhi, senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj has been one of their protectors. But lately, their grip has loosened somewhat. They face serious charges of tax evasion. And in last week's panchayat elections, Bellary's result was a disappointment for the party.
Even so, it's too early to contemplate a diminished role for them in the Karnataka government. "We will react after the Supreme Court makes a final decision," said the chief minister today.