Hyderabad / New Delhi: The Union government on Monday suspended forest clearances to six iron ore mines in Andhra Pradesh, including those owned by Karnataka tourism minister Gali Janardhana Reddy.
The environment ministry has also advised the Andhra Pradesh government to ban mining in the state.
The move comes three days after the state government suspended mining operations at the six mines in Anantapur district, pending orders from the Supreme Court on the report of its central empowered committee. Reddy challenged the decision in the Andhra Pradesh high court, questioning the authority of the state government in suspending the mining operations.
The committee, which looks into matters of forest clearances, had in a report submitted on 19 November advised that mining in the state be suspended till the mining areas were demarcated. It also recommended that transportation of already excavated ore be suspended.
Leading the charge: (from right) TDP’s Naidu addresses a conference on Andhra Pradesh mining issues in New Delhi on Sunday as CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan and CPM leader Brinda Karat look on. Vijay Verma / PTI
In its letter to the Andhra Pradesh government, the Congress party-led Union government said it had suspended clearances to Bellary Iron Ores Pvt. Ltd, Obulapuram Mining Co. Pvt. Ltd (OMC) and four mines adjacent to them under the Forest Conservation Act.
OMC is owned by Reddy, a member of the Karnataka unit of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition at the Centre.
Reddy is known to be close to the family of Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, known popularly as YSR, a Congress leader and the former chief minister of Andhra Pradesh who died in a helicopter crash in September. The Karnataka tourism minister had played a key role in a recent rebellion against the BJP government in Karnataka headed by B.S. Yaddyurappa.
Opposition parties in Andhra Pradesh, led by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) president N. Chandrababu Naidu, have raised cries of mining irregularities by OMC and sought the support of national parties on the issue.
“We are estimating the size of the illegal mining to be at least Rs10,000 crore over the last few years and we suspect the role of family members of YSR in extending support to the mining irregularities of OMC,” Naidu had told reporters on 19 November.
Naidu demanded that the Union government order a multidisciplinary probe into the allegations against OMC, including possible encroachments into neighbouring mines, destruction of boundaries between various mines as well as the boundaries of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, violation of foreign exchange regulations, and money laundering.
Calls to OMC’s spokesperson on Monday evening remained unanswered. He did not reply to text messages sent to his mobile phone.
At a press briefing in Hyderabad on 13 November, Janardhana Reddy had denied the allegations against his company. He said he was being targeted by Naidu and other political leaders because of his close association with YSR’s family.
“There is a strong nexus between the industrial houses, politicians and government officials behind the irregularities in key areas such as merchant power projects, allotment of mineral resources and special economic zones,” said E.A.S. Sarma, a former secretary in the department of economic affairs and now convener of a citizens body, Forum for Better Visakha.