Investigator who unearthed illegal mining faces threats

Investigator who unearthed illegal mining faces threats

Bangalore: Ahead of the release of a report damning the state’s Bharatiya Janata Party government, armed police have started guarding the man who first revealed illegal mining and is now chief investigator for Karnataka Lokayukta justice Santosh Hegde.

Rarely seen in public, Lokayukta vigilance chief Uday Veer Singh—who is also on a Supreme Court committee probing the state’s illegal iron ore mining business—has become the target of intimidation, including possibly a death threat, which the police would neither confirm nor deny.

“A lot of people want to target Singh and his team (of three other forest officials), whose work has made a lot of influential people uncomfortable," said Hegde, confessing he was worried about what would happen to them after the end of his term next month. The report will be released on Monday or Tuesday.

If Hegde is the architect and public face of Karnataka’s fiercely independent anti-corruption body and its investigation of illegal mining, Indian Forest Service officer Singh—a PhD in zoology with 23 published papers—is the mason who led the team that has meticulously built the case against more than 500 politicians and officials, including chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, four cabinet ministers, former Janata Dal (S) chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Congress member of Parliament Anil Lad.

During his stint with the ombudsman, Singh has seen one state order asking him not to leave Bangalore and two recent attempts by the Karnataka government to get him out of the Lokayukta, once as the registrar of a university and another as chief executive of a zila panchayat (local government council). Both transfers were cancelled after angry protests from Hegde.

For someone who is a specialist in insect hormones—his doctoral thesis was on the subject—Singh has developed a finely honed expertise in human duplicity during the course of running one of India’s biggest anti-corruption investigations over nearly four years.

Singh’s investigations into how 68 of 99 mining leases were mining iron ore illegally and how the Obulapuram Mining Co. Pvt. Ltd promoted by tourism minister G. Janardhan Reddy was mining in Karnataka despite a lease valid only for Andhra Pradesh, formed the core of Hegde’s first report submitted to the Karnataka government in December 2008.

At least 10 senior Indian Administrative Service and Indian Police Service officials were indicted, as was former Congress chief minister N. Dharam Singh. The report was ignored.

This time, Singh, and his forest department colleagues Biswajit Mishra, Deepak Singh and Uday Kumar, have tried to unravel the money trail from the illegal mining business, now worth a few billion dollars. They have reportedly identified 4,000 bank accounts linked to such mining.

A chief conservator of forests, to use his official rank, Singh has survived four violent attacks over 25 years on the job, confronting a variety of Karnataka’s mafias, including the forest mafia (illegally cutting trees), sand mafia (illegally removing sand from lake beds, for construction) and the waste water mafia, which illegally routes industrial effluents into lakes.

In February, it was the waste water mafia that confronted him. As head of Bangalore’s Lake Development Authority, he caught a tanker emptying industrial effluent into a lake.

He jumped into the cab and tried to stop the truck, but was attacked by Congress corporator N. Chandra, who was later arrested.