Congress stuck over minister accused of illegal mining

Bangalore, Oct 4 (IANS) Karnataka's ruling Congress and the opposition are on a collision course over the latter's demand to sack mining baron Santosh Lad from the ministry on charges of illegally mining iron ore.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, whose rule during 2008-13 was rocked by mining and other scandals, has taken the matter to Governor H. R. Bhardwaj and has held a demonstration in Bangalore seeking Lad's removal.

It has threatened to continue the agitation till Lad is sacked.

Santosh Lad is the information and infrastructure development minister.

The Lad family has been in the mining business for decades and the controversy over Santosh Lad's alleged involvement in illegal mining has pitted him against his cousin Anil Lad, a Congress legislator.

In fact it was Anil Lad who fired the first salvo against his own party for not making him a minister on the ground that his company is facing charges of illegal mining. His contention is his cousin is facing similar charges but the party has made him a minister.

The main opposition Janata Dal-Secular too is demanding Santosh Lad's removal while former BJP chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, now heading his Karnataka Janata Party, has announced his outfit will launch an agitation if Santosh Lad is not dropped.

An NGO, Samaja Parivartana Samudya, on whose petition the Supreme Court had ordered a probe and cancelled licences of many mining companies, has also been pressing for action against Lad.

The 95-year-old freedom fighter H. S. Doreswamy, whom Chief Minister Siddaramaiah holds in high esteem, has also joined the issue. He has written to Siddaramaiah to consider the allegations against Santosh Lad and decide whether he should be retained as minister.

Siddaramaiah, however, has been resisting the demand, saying that Santosh Lad has clarified that his company V.S. Lad and Sons has not indulged in illegal mining nor has it been named in the Lokayukta's report of July 2011 on Karnataka's illegal mining scam.

The Lokayukta's report resulted in the BJP forcing Yeddyurappa out of office. He quit the party last December to head the KJP.

Siddaramaiah, as well as state Congress chief G. Parameshwara have been saying that the Lokayukta's report does not name Santosh Lad and hence he has been taken in the ministry.

Santosh Lad claims that the controversy has arisen because people are not aware that V.S. Lad and Sons and VSL Mining Company are different and he has no connection with the latter. It is VSL Mining Company which is facing allegations of illegally exporting iron ore.

He says his company's licence has been suspended not because of illegal mining but for dumping ore on forest land and this has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Siddaramaiah seems satisfied with this explanation as he has been seeking documents from the opposition parties and the NGO to prove Santosh Lad's involvement in illegal mining.

The BJP says it has given all the documents to the governor for taking action.

The governor said early this week that he has passed on all the papers to Siddaramaiah.

While legal interpretations of documents will continue, the issue is certain to get politically hotter as the 2014 Lok Sabha elections approach and the Congress will have a tough time in warding off charges of being soft on illegal mining.

The Congress, particularly Siddaramaiah, has to show that he and his party are tough on illegal mining as during the BJP rule, he and the state Congress chief had led a 320-km 'padayatra' (walk) from Bangalore to iron ore rich Bellary district in north Karnataka to protest against illegal mining.

(V.S. Karnic can be contacted at vs.karnic@ians.in)

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