Witnesses who have testified against Janardhan Reddy and his men fear the mining baron's release from jail
A torrent of calls flooded the CBI unit in Bangalore when T. Pattabhi Ramarao, the CBI judge in distant Hyderabad, granted bail to the jailed mining baron, G. Janardhan Reddy, on May 11.
Many of the frantic calls were from the 300-plus witnesses painstakingly persuaded by the CBI-Bangalore to testify in the case registered against Mr. Reddy's flagship firm, the Associated Mining Company (AMC).
Mr. Reddy's judicial custody at the Parapana Agrahara Central Prison in Bangalore ends on Monday. On the directions of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, he is likely to be re-arrested as soon as he steps out.
Although path-breaking in its detailed evidence-based indictment of Mr. Reddy, the final Lokayukta report on illegal mining had its limitations. By contrast, the CBI's unique position as a statutory investigative body has enabled it to find the evidence that, it believes, clinches what the Lokayukta could but indicate.
“During the peak of Reddy's reign over Bellary, some witnesses had been kidnapped, others beaten and almost all intimidated by Reddy and his henchmen,” a CBI officer in Bangalore told The Hindu on condition of anonymity. Their testimonies given under oath before the judge of the Special CBI Court in Bangalore would make it difficult for them to retract their statements. But the CBI's fear was some of the witnesses may prefer the wrath of the court to the threat of violence. “Our entire case was on the verge of collapse until the Andhra Pradesh High Court stepped in and suspended Pattabhi Ramarao on charges of accepting a bribe of Rs. 5 crore to grant bail to Reddy,” says a CBI Police Inspector.
Lawyers of Reddy remained tight lipped when asked about whether they would launch a fresh attempt to secure the release of the former BJP minister. C.V Nagesh, senior counsel in the case told The Hindu that he is yet to be briefed by the counsel-on-record representing Mr. Reddy.
Speaking to The Hindu, senior CBI officers offered examples of how the mining mafia established a “republic of fear” in Bellary. Many of these details have not been made public before because the court where witnesses deposed and were cross-examined was out-of-bounds for reporters following the violent clash between lawyers and journalists outside the sessions courts here earlier this year — the last time Mr Reddy was produced in an open court.
For example, one key government employee states under oath: “On April 26, 2011 the Range Forest Officer sent me with my colleagues to the Lokayukta Office and asked me to meet U.V. Singh [Indian Forest Officer and chief investigator who compiled the Lokayukta's illegal mining report]. He asked us how we could issue so many mining permits [to AMC]. We explained [in writing] that there was threat and force from G.J.R. [Reddy] due to which we signed the permits.”
The same witness states that he was summoned on May 9 by Mr. Reddy. [Pooh-poohing the Lokayukta report, Ali Khan, Reddy's pointsman, allegedly stated: “The government belongs to GJR.” The witness deposed that he was forced, under threat of suspension, into signing a letter stating that U.V. Singh had coerced them into submitting statements against Mr. Reddy. Presently sharing space at the Parapana Agrahara Central Prison in Bangalore with Mr. Janardhan Reddy, the 1984-born Mehfouz Ali Khan is an engineer who became one of Mr. Reddy's most trusted enforcers.
AMC — a dead mine
In his testimony, an Assistant Engineer of the Mines and Geology Department said Mr. Ali Khan coerced him to issue false stock certificates to the AMC. He yielded, knowing full well that the AMC owned a dead mine in Hospet, Bellary, which had not yielded highquality iron ore for several years. Mr. Reddy used such false certificates to legitimise ore that he had looted from other mines in the region, the CBI alleges.
The testimony of the promoter of the mining firm Tiffins Barytes shows how Mr. Reddy's men used muscle power to take over the operations of other mines.
Mr. Ali Khan and his men forced their way into the leasehold area of Tiffins Barrytes and extracted one lakh tonnes of high-quality ore between January and June 2010, according to a sworn statement by a company employee.
When senior company executive Vinod Jadhav protested, he was kidnapped and tortured at an undisclosed location. His complaints to the police and other authorities yielded no action.
The statement by the owners of the Siddapura Iron Ore Mines further establishes the extent of collusion between bureaucrats and Mr. Reddy, the CBI says. Repeated requests by Shaik Saab, the owner of Siddapura mines, for permission to extract ore from his leasehold area were turned down by forest officials. Meanwhile, Mr. Ali Khan approached him with offers to manage the mine. He promised to get the necessary clearances and in return Mr. Saab gave Mr. Ali Khan a 75 per cent stake in the earnings.
With its implicit threat of violence, it was an offer that Shaik Saab could not refuse. Ironically, Shaik Saab did not even get the 25 per cent that he was entitled to. “I was not even allowed to enter my mine after Ali Khan took over,” he said.
Forced takeover of AMC
The manner in which Reddy and his wife G. Aruna Lakshmi came to be the owners of the Associated Mining Company is a story in itself. In his testimony, K.M. Vishwanath, the former owner of AMC, told the Court he was coerced into handing over all his mining permits to Mr. Reddy. These permits were used by the latter to legitimise ore that he used to allegedly steal from the leasehold area of the Dalmia mines in Hospet. Despite Mr. Vishwanath's protests against this extortion, Mr. Reddy and his wife Aruna Lakshmi forced themselves in as partners in AMC, the CBI alleges. Mr. Vishwanath and his other partners were subsequently edged out, and Reddy and his wife came to be the sole partners by August 2009.
Two scientific surveys commissioned by the CBI — done by the Indian Bureau of Mines (IBM) and Singareni Collieries Company Ltd. (SCCL) in April 2012 -- corroborate the Lokayukta report's finding that AMC was a front for illegal mining, and the ore was actually extracted illegally from elsewhere.
While records with the Forest department, and the department of Mines and Geology state that Dalmia mines are in a state of disuse, satellite enabled images tell a different tale. (See satellite pictures) But the CBI says all the scientific evidence detailed in its chargesheet would have counted for little without the evidence from witnesses in court. A CBI investigator cites the evidence provided by an owner of a firm hired by the AMC to extract and transport ore. He showed investigators the exact spot from where he had extracted 33 lakh tonnes of ore on Mr. Ali Khan's orders.
The investigators plotted the expanse on government maps. “The site was right in the middle of the Dalmia mines, nowhere near the leasehold area of the AMC,” the investigator told The Hindu.