Bengaluru: Criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating and encroachment — these are some of the charges, including under the Forest Act, that Karnataka’s new forest minister Anand Singh is facing.
A turncoat MLA from Vijayanagara, Singh is said to have managed to force Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa to give him the forest portfolio, less than 24 hours after he was given the food and civil supplies ministry.
However, Yediyurappa’s decision has brought the focus back on the checkered past of Singh, who has 15 criminal cases pending against him. A mining baron from Ballari known to be close to BJP’s Reddy brothers, Singh is facing several of these cases in connection with the multi-crore illegal mining scam.
Critics have raised questions about the propriety of appointing a minister who is being prosecuted by the very officers who will report to him.
“What message are you sending out by this?” Justice Santhosh Hegde, former Karnataka Lokayukta, asked.
The retired judge had exposed the Ballari mining scam, in which 7.74 million tonnes of iron ore was illegally exported between 2006-2007 and 2010-11, causing a Rs 35,000 crore loss to the exchequer. Hegde had led the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that filed the cases against Singh.
“I have nothing against him. But could they have not given him any other portfolio? I have nothing to say about him becoming a minister. But I would like to comment on the portfolio,” Hegde told ThePrint.
“He himself has declared in his election affidavit that he has cases against him under violation of the Forest Act. My question is, the cases will be prosecuted by the forest officials, so how genuine will that prosecution be if he is the minister?” Hegde asked.
In response, Anand Singh told ThePrint, “I decline to comment on such issues.”
However, he had told the media earlier that he didn’t ask for the portfolio, and compared the cases against him to “traffic violations”.
In his election affidavit before the December 2019 byelections, Anand Singh had mentioned that 15 criminal cases were pending against him, most of them linked to illegal mining.
These offences fall under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, along with violations of the Karnataka Forest Act. They include charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, dishonesty, illegal transport or movement of forest produce and forgery of documents.
In one particular case, a Range Forest Officer from Hosapete had filed a case alleging that Singh was “responsible” for “counterfeiting or defacing marks on trees or timber and altering boundary marks within the forest”.
“This meant that Singh had tried to encroach on forest land which was illegal,” explained a forest official, who did not wish to be named.
Singh was arrested in October 2013 by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the Belekeri illegal mining case, but was later released on bail. In September 2019, after B.S. Yediyurappa formed his government with the by-elections still months away, Singh was acquitted in one of the several Belekeri illegal mining cases he had been named in, along with another co-accused B. Nagendra.
Tapal Ganesh, a mine owner in Ballari who has been fighting against illegal mining activities in the region, told ThePrint that it was a “travesty of justice” that a man like Singh was made a minister despite several cases against him.
“He (Singh) claims that the people have elected him. They think as elected representatives they can do anything, even bend the law. People like Anand Singh will only further corrupt the political system,” Ganesh told ThePrint.
Who is Anand Singh?
Known as Vijayanagara’s hat-trick hero, four-time MLA Anand Singh was the first of the 17 turncoats to withdraw his support to the shaky Congress-JD(S) coalition government. While withdrawing support, he claimed his demand for a separate district of Vijayanagara was given a cold shoulder by then chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy.
In the December byelections, he again contested from Vijayanagara and won by over 30,000 votes.
Like his former friends-turned-foe Reddy brothers, Singh is a mining baron who mentions his profession as an agriculturist-businessman in his election affidavit. With assets worth over Rs 100 crore, he took a plunge into politics in 2008 along with the Reddy brothers.
He first served as tourism minister in the Yediyurappa government itself in 2008-13. However, he later quit the BJP to join the Congress ahead of the 2018 elections claiming he was fed up with the “squabbling and bickering” within the party.
In May 2018, when Yediyurappa desperately began to lure opposition MLAs to form the government, Singh was one of the few legislators who had agreed to support the BJP, sources had said.
However, on 19 May, when Yediyurappa was to face his crucial trust vote, Singh went missing. ThePrint had reported how Singh claimed he was “threatened with criminal cases” by the BJP and was being forced to vote in favour of Yediyurappa. He was later seen in the Karnataka assembly, being escorted by senior Congress leader D.K. Shivakumar.
At the time, Yediyurappa, who knew he would lose trust vote due to lack of numbers, resigned without calling the vote, paving way for the Congress and JD(S) to form a coalition government.
He later joined the rebels who flew to Mumbai and parked themselves there till the Kumaraswamy government fell in July 2019.