The Karnataka government's decision to sell over 3,000 acres of land in Ballari district to JSW Steel company has run into a controversy, with the opposition alleging that it is being sold at a price that's much lower than its market value.
Even Congress veteran HK Patil questioned the land deal with the Sajjan Jindal-helmed firm in a tweet, saying that each acre is being sold for a fraction of the crores it should actually fetch. The opposition, for its part, has threatened to launch a state-wide agitation unless the decision is reversed.
"I am telling you about Jindal issue. More than 3,667 acres they have taken decision in the cabinet to sell. We are against that. In our MLAs' meeting, we will take decision and if necessary take agitation throughout the state. I am going to force the Chief Minister of Karnataka to withdraw that order immediately because the value is more than 1,000 crores so you can't sell that land. What HK Patil has taken decision is correct. He must withdraw that order," state BJP president BS Yeddyurappa told mediapersons after a party event.
Mr Yeddyurappa suggested that the Congress-Janata Dal Secular coalition government instead give 1,000 acres of the land to JSW Steel on lease. "They might have taken commission, that is why they want to sell the land. If necessary, we will sit on dharna after three-four days," he said.
The government claims that the land is part of a lease-cum-sale agreement, and the understanding is that it would be handed over to the firm as part of an outright sale after several years of using it on lease.
HK Patil reiterated that the rate at which the land was being handed over to JSW Steel was way below what it should be. "Jindal was named in the Lokayukta report on illegal mining for many violations, and they have not been cleared yet. Jindal owes crores of rupees in dues, and that should be settled first," he told NDTV.
Even JSW Steel maintained that the agreement was something that had been finalised earlier. "The said land was leased to JSW Steel for expansion of its steel plant capacity at Vijayanagar, and the leasehold land shall become freehold land as per the terms of the original lease on expiry of the specific period of lease," it said in a statement.
Their claim is backed by state authorities. "The government had failed with the Vijayanagar steel plant. The JSW took over, and they are doing a very good job," said Karnataka Water Resources Minister DK Shivakumar. "It is the cabinet's decision. We want a captive plant. Karnataka is rich in minerals, and we don't want these minerals to be exported outside. We want it to be here. We stand by it. There is nothing wrong."
Incidentally, even the Karnataka BJP chief was accused of receiving kickbacks from a Ballari-based mining company affiliated to the JSW Group during his tenure as Chief Minister between 2008 and 2011. He was, however, acquitted by a special CBI court in Bengaluru three years ago.