Following widespread criticism from its own party MLAs and several petitions pending in various courts, the BJP-led Karnataka cabinet on May 27 made a u-turn by suspending the controversial sale of 3,667 acres of land to JSW Steel Ltd in Ballari. On April 26, the cabinet headed by Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa had decided to sell off a whopping 3,667 acres land to JSW Steel, a deal it had opposed in 2019 when it was in the opposition and the ruling Congress-JD(S) coalition government had favoured the lease-cum-sale agreement. "One of the major decisions of today's cabinet meeting is to hold back the land deal with JSW company that was taken in the cabinet meeting on April 26," Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Basavaraj Bommai told reporters while briefing the cabinet decisions.
The decision came after some ruling party MLAs wrote to Yediyurappa earlier this month, appealing to the state government to drop the land deal. An activist had also filed a PIL on this and based on a High Court direction, notices were served to all the cabinet ministers. "The cabinet, in its wisdom looking into the pending cases, has taken this decision," Bommai said, noting that a petition on the issue is also pending in the Supreme Court.
The deal was originally proposed in 1996 when JD(S) supremo HD Deve Gowda was the Chief Minister of Karnataka. It was revived in 2005-06, when the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by then Chief Minister N Dharam Singh and Deputy Chief Minister Siddaramaiah came to power and decided to give 2,000.58 acres of land to JSW Steel on a lease-cum-sale arrangement.
Again in 2007, when HD Kumaraswamy was the Chief Minister in an alliance with the BJP with Yediyurappa as the Deputy CM, another 1,666.73 acres of land was allotted to the company at Toranagallu, Kurekuppa, Moosenayakanahalli and Yarabanahalli villages in Ballari district.
In 2019, the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by Kumaraswamy came to power and decided to convert the lease into a sale. But the opposition BJP led by Yediyurappa had vociferously opposed it, accusing the state's coalition government of selling the land at a throwaway price of Rs 1.22 lakh to Rs 1.50 lakh per acre.
Yediyurappa had even accused the Congress-JD(S) coalition of getting 'kickbacks' for the sale of land. After the BJP came to power in July 2019, Yediyurappa referred this issue to a cabinet sub-committee headed by Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar, which 'recommended the government to execute the sale deed'. On April 26, the Karnataka cabinet decided to execute an absolute sale deed.
As soon as this decision came into public domain, BJP MLAs Basanagouda Patil Yatnal, who is one of the harshest critics of Yediyurappa, Arvind Bellad, K Poornima, Uday Garudachar and others wrote a strongly-worded letter to the Chief Minister, terming the cabinet decision as "against the interest of the state", calling it contrary to the BJP's fight against corruption.