Accused in mining and forest cases, Ballari baron Anand Singh made Karnataka Forest & Environment Minister

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Accused in mining and forest cases, Ballari baron made Karnataka Forest & Environment Minister

Anand Singh, a mining baron who declared assets of Rs 173 crore during the December 2019 bypolls, is facing trial in three CBI cases. (File)

Accused OF illegal mining and forest crimes in 15 cases pending against him since 2012, Anand Singh, a four-time MLA from the iron ore-rich Ballari district of Karnataka with business interests in mining and transportation, has been appointed the new minister for forest, environment and ecology in the six-month-old BJP government in the state led by BS Yediyurappa. Read in Tamil

Singh (53) was made minister of food and civil supplies on Monday, but was given the forest, ecology and environment ministry a day later, after he demanded a change in portfolio, despite the charges of illegal mining and violation of forest laws pending against him from the BJP’s previous tenure (2008-13).

“The Vijayanagara MLA was unhappy with food and civil supplies. He was demanding the energy portfolio and was given the forest portfolio as a compromise,’’ said BJP sources.

Singh, a party-hopping legislator, was elected on a BJP ticket from Vijayanagara seat in Ballari in December 2019, after he defected from the Congress along with 14 others to enable Yediyurappa to wrest power.

According to sources, Singh got the forest portfolio since his demand for division of Ballari district into two separate districts has not been cleared by Yediyurappa.

Singh, a mining baron who declared assets of Rs 173 crore during the December 2019 bypolls, is facing trial in three CBI cases. He and other members of an alleged illegal mining syndicate, which reportedly operated under the leadership of former BJP minister Gali Janardhan Reddy, are accused of causing losses of over Rs 200 crore to the exchequer through illegal mining and exports done by plundering forest land in Ballari.

He has been accused of criminal conspiracy, theft, criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty, criminal trespass and forgery. The matter is under trial before a special court in Bengaluru, with a hearing posted for February 26.

In one of the three cases, a former deputy conservator of forests, a conservator of forests and a deputy director of the department of mines and geology in Ballari have been accused of conspiring, between January 1, 2009 and May 31, 2010, with Janardhan Reddy — the then Ballari district in-charge minister — and a cabal of mining businessmen “to illegally excavate huge quantities of iron ore’’ and of trading the iron ore “without any valid permits’’ causing “wrongful loss of Rs 198 crores to the exchequer of the state’’ and gains for themselves.

Singh was arrested by the CBI in 2013 and later released on bail.

A total of 15 criminal cases are pending against Singh from 2008-2013, when the BJP was in power in Karnataka, all pertaining to crimes related to stealing of iron ore without licences and permits from legal and illegal mines in Ballari. He had declared these cases in his poll affidavit last year.

Eleven of these cases are being prosecuted by a Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka Lokayukta, where Singh is accused of criminal conspiracy, theft, criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty, and transport or movement of forest produce without permits and licences. Singh has challenged these cases in the Karnataka High Court.

Singh was arrested by the SIT in 2015 and was later released on bail.

Incidentally, one of the miners accused with Singh in a case being prosecuted by the SIT, Dinesh Singhi, was recently appointed by the Karnataka government as a member of the state wildlife board.

One case pending against Singh was registered by the range forest officer for Hospet region of Ballari in 2013, who accused the mining baron of committing acts prohibited in reserved forests, altering boundary marks and other charges under the Karnataka Forest Act.

“The appointment of Anand Singh as the forest minister is a glaring violation by B S Yediyurappa of a Supreme Court directive not to appoint as ministers persons facing trial in cases where a chargesheet has been filed and the judiciary has taken cognizance,’’ said social activist S R Hiremath, whose organisation Samaj Parivartana Samudaya took the issue of illegal mining in Ballari to the Supreme Court in 2012.

“The war that the BJP declared in 2014 on corruption and blackmoney sounds hollow with such an appointment,’’ Hiremath said. “Yediyurappa, who was also accused of facilitating illegal mining at the time, should have known better,’’ he said.

A senior worker of a prominent party said all parties in the state had lost the moral authority to question Singh’s appointment since they had all dallied with him, despite the pendency of cases against him.

In January 2018, Singh, who was elected as an Independent MLA in 2013 from Vijayanagara seat after the illegal mining fiasco of 2008-2013, was inducted into the Congress at a gala function in Hospet attended by then chief minister Siddaramaiah and then Congress president Rahul Gandhi. Earlier, when the BJP was in power (2008-13), Singh was a BJP MLA.

Early in his political career, Singh was associated with former prime minister H D Deve Gowda’s JD(S).

He enjoys immense popularity in the Hospet region — despite lacking a caste base — as he has set up schools and hospitals for the poor.