A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team on Thursday questioned Karnataka Tourism Minister G. Janardhana Reddy, and raided the offices of his mining company in Bellary as it began a probe into allegations of illegal iron ore mining by his firm.
The CBI team also questioned Mr. Reddy’s close associate and Karnataka Health Minister B. Sriramulu, as he has a small share in the firm, Obulapuram Mining Company, which operates mainly in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
The team visited the house of Mr. Reddy in Bellary, 40 km from here, to go through documents relating to his firm’s activities.
The CBI action comes as a team of the Indian Bureau of Mines has been surveying the iron ore rich areas in Bellary and neighbouring Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh to determine the extent of illegal mining.
The CBI probe was sought by the Andhra Pradesh government following a demand by the opposition Telugu Desam, Left parties and others.
The central government agreed to Andhra’s request and directed the CBI to conduct the probe.
JMr. anardhana Reddy told reporters in Bellary that he would cooperate with the CBI team. He asserted that his firm was not indulging in any illegal mining and the CBI probe was a “Congress conspiracy to destabilize” the first Bharatiya Janata Party government in Karnataka.
The Karnataka government is also under pressure from the Congress and Janata Dal-Secular parties to seek a CBI probe. However, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, had rejected the demand saying there was no illegal mining in the state.
However, he has said his government would cooperate with the CBI.
Mr. Janardhana Reddy and his elder brother Revenue Minister G. Karunakara Reddy, had recently led a revolt against Mr. Yeddyurappa’s leadership. The differences were patched up by senior BJP leader Sushma Swaraj, with whom the Reddy brothers share a rapport.
A CBI official said in New Delhi: “We are conducting searches at the offices of Obulapuram Mining Company (OMC - owned by Reddy) and Bellary Iron Ore Pvt Ltd in Bellary.”
A Central Empowered Committee of the Supreme Court in its report recommended to the court that illegal mining be stopped in six mines in Obulapuram and H. Siddapuram villages of Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh.
Following this, the CBI registered a case against the two private firms, unknown public servants and others for the offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, theft, criminal trespass, dishonestly receiving stolen property and causing mischief.
Various sections of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulations) Act, 1957, were also invoked.
For the investigation, the CBI had constituted a multi-disciplinary team consisting of officers of Survey of India, Bureau of Mines, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Central Forensic Science Laboratory, Customs & Department of Revenue Intelligence.
The team also consists of forest and other departments of Andhra Pradesh.