Director of Mines Srinivas pays the price for taking on illegal mining lobby

In what appears to be yet another case of an honest bureaucrat being shown the door, Karnataka’s Director of Mines and Geology (DMG) H.R. Srinivas has been shunted out by the Congress government despite a Supreme Court directive that he be not removed from his post.

Sources close to Mr. Srinivas told The Hindu that he had taken on the illegal mining lobby in Karnataka. Among other things, he had recommended cancellation of 14 “major” iron ore leases under Categories A and B along with 16 leases under Category C.

A reticent and emotional Mr. Srinivas, after much persuasion, spoke to The Hindu.

He said:

“I am still asking myself what wrong I did? One thing is sure, I am the victim of a witch-hunt by vested interests who hatched a well-planned conspiracy to malign me and ease me out of the post.

“Every attempt has been made to malign my character and demoralise me by filing false complaints against me. By god’s grace I have managed not to become a mental wreck.

“I have no regrets, as I did my best. I learnt every trick played by the mining lobby during the course of my work. I happily accept my transfer and will not question the government’s decision.”

On speculation that he had sought the transfer, he said, “I am not a coward, I don’t want to run away from my responsibility.”

Mr. Srinivas was among those officials handpicked by the Supreme Court-constituted Central Empowered Committee (CEC) to help in probing illegal mining. He was also a member of the Monitoring Committee on mining.

“Impressed” by his performance, the previous Bharatiya Janata Party government had wanted the inter-cadre transfer of Mr. Srinivas, a 1996 batch Bihar cadre IAS officer. His contribution to nailing the illegal leases was appreciated by the CEC in a report submitted to the Supreme Court. But “his determination to fight against illegal mining cost him heavily,” said a senior DMG official on condition of anonymity.

The official said a conspiracy was hatched by the mining lobby led by some top political leaders to malign and mentally torture him, to force him to vacate the post on his own.

Highly placed sources in DMG disclosed that “a multipronged strategy” was planned to dislocate Mr. Srinivas from his post as he had the guts to reject the “favours” offered by “powerful people” in the government.

It was these “vested interests” that were responsible for asking two anonymous persons to file a complaint against him. Because of that, Mr. Srinivas was under tremendous mental pressure availing himself of leave for 15 days. Eventually, he replied to the government by providing all facts (the reply is in the possession of The Hindu), the sources said.

Though Mr. Srinivas recommended to Mining Secretary Amarnarayan the termination of over 30 leases in question, twice over the last two years, the latter shot them down on frivolous grounds to protect the interests of the mining lobby, according to the sources.

Mr. Srinivas attracted the wrath of the government as a top politician in the earlier BJP government sought a mining lease for his son, but the IAS officer flatly refused, despite “advice” from a senior bureaucrat.

Though Mr. Srinivas recommended the cancellation of 51 mining leases under category C, the government adopted delaying tactics to protect the interests of those in power, the sources alleged, the sources said.

The CEC, in its final report on February 3, 2012, classified mining leases into Category A, B, and C, based on the extent of alleged illegalities. Following the report, the Supreme Court on April 18, 2013 cancelled 51 leases in Bellary, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts.

Had the government acted on the recommendation of Mr. Srinivas, the exchequer would have benefited to the tune of Rs. 13,800 crore through auction of C category mines, the sources noted.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah apparently asked Mr. Srinivas to make a presentation on his recommendation just two days before his transfer. “He briefed the Chief Minister for nearly 90 minutes and convinced him on need to cancel the leases recommended, along with 51 that come under category C. But the Chief Minister did not act,” said the sources close to Mr. Srinivas.

Though Mr. Srinivas was aware of the consequences of his act, he did not expect the transfer as he was backed by the Supreme Court’s directive. But the government did not seem bothered about the legal implications.

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