Sunday, July 18, 2010

Belekeri: Heart of the mining storm

An otherwise minor port on the coast of Karnataka, Belekeri tossed into headlines as it emerges as the epicentre of what could be the biggest mining scam in the country.Political interference into the inquiry caused Lok Ayukta Santosh Hegde to resign in June.Hedge has taken back his resignation, but now the Opposition is unwilling to withdraw its protest in the Assembly till investigators get to the root of the alleged nexus between politicians and iron ore miners, draining the state dry.Preliminary estimates peg the ore smuggling at Rs. 10,000 crore every year.
In August 2009, the Lok Ayukta began looking into allegations of smuggled ore making its way to Belekari, from the mines of Bellary, on fake permits and then being exported to China.Halfway through the inquiry, ore seized by the Lok Ayukta vanished.Belekeri Port is the epicentre of Karnataka's mining controversy. This is the port from where five lakh metric tonnes of seized iron ore went missing. Locals say, it's not unusual, but the fact that it happened after the Lok Ayukta's inquiry began means it could not have happened without the blessings of the powerful.''Belekeri is a clear case of violation of every kind of law. When our Lok Ayukta officials went there to conduct raids, they seized six bags of forged and fake documents,'' said Lok Ayukta of Karnataka Santosh Hegde.Between Bellary and Belekeri, there are 10 check posts of the Departments of Forest, Mines & Geology, Road Transport, Customs and Port Authority. At each point, truckers have to enter mining lease, permit and load details.It's obvious then that thousands of tonnes of illegal ore can't pass through, unless all these government departments are involved in the smuggling.Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa, stung by the allegations, has ordered a CID probe.''I will also give the Lok Ayukta all powers to inquire into the Belekari scam,'' said Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa. What's makes Belekari, a tightrope walk for Yeddyurappa is that the biggest miners under the scanner, are the Reddy brothers. Top-ranking ministers in his Cabinet, who has shown in the past that they can bring the government to its knees.