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Halting the Reddy machine

Halting the Reddy machine

The Reddy brothers are a byword for power and prestige in Karnataka. They are not only powerful politicians in that state, but also mining barons. And also spell trouble for anyone who crosses their path. Their ability to do so comes from their wealth— wealth from mining iron ore in Bellary district of the state and in the adjoining areas of Andhra Pradesh. On Monday, the Supreme Court halted the operations of their mining company, Obulapuram Mining Co. (OMC) in Andhra Pradesh.

The court’s order came in the wake of allegations that OMC had encroached on reserve forest area in Andhra Pradesh. The apex court also appointed a committee headed by the Survey of India to verify if OMC had encroached forest land.

The case of the Reddy brothers—Janardhana, Karunakara and Somashekar—is one of those chapters of Indian politics where power and wealth assume alarming proportions. There are many angles from which to view this episode: One could call it a resource curse whereby abundance of natural resources often leads to adverse economic and political outcomes. It could also be labelled as the inability of the powers that be to enforce the law of the land. Beyond these abstract explanations, there are other, simpler reasons. In a democracy, political parties run for office, something that is as expensive as horse racing, if not more. It goes without saying that such gambles require big money.

Here both the Congress party (in Andhra Pradesh) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (the ruling party in Karnataka) are at fault. Both parties need money to contest elections and that needs people with money such as the Reddy brothers. Often it pays to overlook “minor" transgressions such as land encroachment. Both parties ignored that. Officials, prescient as ever, took the cue and did nothing. Administrative action against officials of the forest and mining and geology departments in Andhra Pradesh by the present government, long after these officials trampled on the law, shows that there is some truth in this.

Finally, it was left to the Supreme Court, no less, to put a stop to all this. This was something that should have been done by the state government. But such is the state of affairs in these states that duly constituted governments are powerless to act even when violations of law are so obvious.

Are mining barons a threat to democracy in India? Tell us at views@livemint.com

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