New Delhi / Hyderabad: The Supreme Court (SC) stayed on Monday all mining activities in Andhra Pradesh by Obulapuram Mining Co. Pvt. Ltd (OMC) owned by Karnataka’s influential and politically well-connected Gali Reddy brothers.
The decision is a huge setback to the Reddy brothers, who owe allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and is likely to weaken their clout in Karnataka, where they led a rebellion in October against chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa.
The Reddy triumvirate comprises G. Karunakara Reddy, the eldest who is the revenue minister in Yeddyurappa’s government, G. Janardhana Reddy, the tourism minister, and G. Somashekar Reddy, the youngest, who is chairman of the Karnataka Milk Federation.
The SC bench headed by Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan passed the order while hearing a special appeal by the Andhra Pradesh government, which challenged the 26 February ruling of the Andhra Pradesh high court that quashed a ban on the Reddys’ mining operation by the state government.
On 25 November, the Andhra Pradesh industries and commerce department had restrained OMC from carrying out any mining activity involving extraction of iron ore in the Bellary reserve forest in Anantapur district.
The Reddy brothers are close to the family of the late Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, whose death late last year in a plane crash created a crisis in Andhra Pradesh where his family’s supporters insisted his son Jaganmohan Reddy be named chief minister in his place.
However, the Congress party named K. Rosiah as chief minister of Andhra Pradesh.
Interestingly, the November order from the Andhra Pradesh industries and commerce department came shortly after this appointment.
A day before the SC’s order, on Sunday, the Andhra Pradesh government initiated action against two officials of the mining and forest departments for favouring OMC. “While the director of mining, V. Rajagopal, was asked to go on long leave, the government has suspended the additional director, mining S. Sairam Singh,” said a senior official in the industries department, who did not want to be named as he is not authorized to speak to media. He said both the orders were issued on Sunday by the industries secretary M. Veerabhadraiah. Veerabhadaiah declined comment and neither Rajagopal nor Singh could be reached for comment.
On Monday, while passing its order, the apex court also appointed an expert committee headed by the Survey of India to examine the mining areas and investigate allegations of large-scale encroachment of reserve forest areas by OMC.
The court also granted two weeks to the committee to file its report and said no further mining activities would be permitted at the site until further orders. The committee will include members drawn from the state department of forest, mines and revenue.
Attorney general G.E. Vahanvati argued that the high court had erred in ignoring the findings of both the SC-appointed central empowered committee and the high-level inquiry committee of the state government, which held OMC guilty of illegal mining and sought immediate suspension of mining activity.
Both the committees had held that mine operators had encroached into reserve forest areas in gross violation of the lease conditions.
K.K. Venugopal, senior advocate and counsel for Andhra Pradesh government, argued that OMC had extended the area of mining by removing the pillars, which formed the boundary of the area for which the lease was granted.
Mukul Rohtagi, the lawyer representing OMC, opposed the ban on mining by arguing that the company has a valid lease and that the ban would not solve any purpose. Rohtagi urged the court to permit mining activity while the survey is being conducted.
The case will be heard next on 9 April.
The BJP said the order of the apex court would have no impact on the party’s government in Karnataka. “It’s a court decision and everybody has to respect a judicial verdict. The government in Karnataka is a elected dispensation and a development like this can hardly have any influence on it,” said Yashwant Sinha, a senior BJP leader.
M.V. Mysoora Reddy, member of Parliament and senior leader of the Telugu Desam Party, said both the state and Union governments, should order a thorough investigation into the irregularities by OMC. “Some 80-90% of the reserves in those mines are already excavated and transported and there are hardly 10-20% reserves left in the mines now.”
C. Narasimha Rao, a political analyst, said he did not find any political will in the system to take action against the large-scale irregularities and offences being committed by what he claimed was a mafia of mining and construction contractors in Andhra Pradesh. “A strong nexus between contractors and politicians has developed in the state over the last five-six years.”
Santosh K. Joy contributed to this story.