Corruption taint mattered little

People vote in politicians accused in illegal mining activities in Karnataka, Odisha

By Anupam Chakravartty
Published: Saturday 17 May 2014

imagePolitical commentators had predicted the mandate for this year’s Lok Sabha elections is clean and corruption-free governance. The prediction has not come true—at least in the mining states of Odisha and Karnataka. The people of the two states have voted for the ruling parties and their tainted politicians who have been indicted in illegal mining.

Odisha, where large scale illegalities were found in iron mining and transportation, voted for the Naveen Patnaik-led Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government which bagged 20 out of 21 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

The sweeping victory comes barely months after a Supreme Court-appointed commission called for a CBI probe into illegal mining in the state. The Shah Commission observed in its findings that between 2008 and 2011, there was a collapse of government machinery in the state, which “looked to be ineffective and helpless in front of mining mafia, persons in political life, mighty lessees and some corrupt officials”.The report says the state police cannot be trusted with investigations. The report, which was submitted recently to Parliament, prompted the apex court to temporarily ban iron ore mining in the state.

Prashant Paikray, an environmental and mining activist from the state, says BJD won because the opposition in the state is fragmented. “In the grassroots, there are about 40 different movements happening in Odisha. However, these movements are localised and have not been able to gather on one single platform,” says Paikray. Also, infighting in opposition parties such as Congress helped Patnaik. “Second factor is the large scale-corporate funding in both Assembly and the Lok Sabha elections in each constituency. This kind of money usually comes from mining giants who have been waiting for the state government to open its reserves for unbridled mining,” says Paikray.
In Karnataka, former chief minister B S Yeddyurappa and leader B Sriramulu have won from Shimoga and Bellary Lok Sabha seats respectively. While Yeddyurappa was arrested in the Bellary iron ore mining scam, Sriramulu, a close aide of former Karnataka chief minister Janardhan Reddy, was criticised by the BJP leadership for his possible involvement in the iron ore scam. Yeddyurappa, who was released in November 2011, won by 360,000 votes and Sriramulu got 530,000  votes. The Bellary scam, which came to light in 2011, showed large number of leases were operating illegally and violating various forest and environmental rights. In 2012, both the leaders had quit BJP to form their parties because of differences with senior leaders. However, as the elections drew close, both the leaders came back to the BJP fold with the party offering tickets for Shimoga and Bellary. This happened despite senior BJP leaders, such as Sushma Swaraj, openly criticising the decision to include both the persons.

Read more on Bellary mining scam

S R Hiremath, founder of Samaj Parivartan Samuday, who led a battle against indiscriminate mining of iron ore in Bellary, is not surprised that both the leaders got elected. “We have filed cases in courts, got the mine accused to the jails and tried to bring about a change. However, in India, most important battles are political battles such as elections. For the people, there is no political alternative, which has led to this kind of a scenario. I believe a large amount of money also has been used in the elections and many of these politicians work in close collusion with the mining companies,” says Hiremath.

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