Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa’s decision to appoint Anand Singh as the Forest minister on Tuesday has raised “conflict of interest” questions, especially since he has over a dozen cases pending against him, including serious offenses under the Karnataka Forest Act.
According to his election affidavit that he filed for his December 2019 byelection, the Vijayanagar MLA has shown 15 cases pending against him. These are offences under the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act to be read with violations of the Karnataka Forest Act.
This came on a day when Yediyurappa buckled under pressure and redistributed portfolios after some new ministers, including Singh, threw tantrums barely a day after they were given responsibilities. On Monday, when the ten newly-inducted ministers were given portfolios, Singh got the Food & Civil Supplies portfolio whereas B C Patil had Forest. Both were reportedly unhappy.
In a quick reshuffle, Singh got Forest, Patil was given Agriculture and K Gopalaiah, who had Small Scale Industries and Sugar, was made in charge of Food & Civil Supplies
Singh, a former associate of the Reddy brothers, the tainted mining barons, was arrested in 2015 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Lokayukta on charges of illegal iron ore transportation. Singh was arrested in 2013 as well in connection with alleged illegal export of iron ore from Belekeri port.
In September 2019, Singh was acquitted in one case pertaining to the alleged export of 1.3 lakh tonnes of iron ore from Belekeri.
Lokayukta N Santosh Hegde, who took a strong position against Singh’s appointment as the Forest minister. “There’s an English proverb: set a thief to catch a thief. This principle suits. Does one need my reassertion when the gentleman, against whom I have nothing in person, has voluntarily disclosed that he has cases pending against him?” Hegde said when DH contacted him.“
“I’m presuming that my report on illegal mining has been rejected, but those in governance should at least respect such public information before allocating portfolios,” he said.
According to Singh’s affidavit, the cases pending against him involve those pertaining to penalties for termination of mining leases and for the movement of forest produce. He also has one case specifically under the Karnataka Forest Act charging him with carrying out activities prohibited in reserved forests, counterfeiting or defacing marks on trees or timber and altering (forest) boundary.
Singh, who jumped ship from the Congress to the BJP, was inducted into Yediyurappa’s Cabinet along with nine other turncoats last week.