In a sudden U-turn, Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy announced that the state government may not go ahead with the controversial decision to give land to Jindal group’s JSW Steel Ltd in Ballari for iron ore mining.
“I have discussed the controversy with Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara and Industries Minister K J George. I’ve directed that this be re-examined and placed before the Cabinet for a discussion,” the CM said in a late night tweet on Tuesday.
A source said, “Continuous bad press has led to the decision, After a consultation with Deputy CM, the CM decided to go for another round of cabinet review.”
Incidentally this came on the same day when industry leaders urged the government not to “send a wrong signal to investor community”.
“The facilitation of industry to set up shop in Karnataka is one of the most important tasks of the Government of Karnataka. The present controversy over regularisation of land lease of JSW Steel Ltd is unfortunate as well as unnecessary. We understand that political colour has been given to the legitimate use of land by a large industry to set up its plant and facilities." Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Kishore Alva said.
Until now the CM had maintained a studied silence on the issue despite opposition from many quarters including allegations of kickbacks.
What is the row over the land in Ballari?
The Karnataka cabinet on May 30, 2019 had unanimously agreed to allocate 2000.58 acres of land in Ballari district’s Sandur and an additional 1666.73 acres of land in the district’s Yalaburga region to JSW Steel Ltd for mining operations.
However, Congress leader HK Patil, in a letter to Industries Minister KJ George had alleged that JSW Steel Ltd owed Rs 1,200 crore to Mysore Minerals Ltd as on May 27, 2019 and that the state government was giving away the land for a depreciated value.
JSW Steel Ltd has been accused of supplying iron ore to Mysore Minerals at a low premium between 2000-01 and 2009-10. During this time period, 9.25 million tonnes of iron ore valued at Rs 1,059.89 crore was mined, for which Mysore Minerals got only Rs 63.17 crore as premium, while JSW Steel Ltd made a profit of Rs 876.9 crore, the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report in 2013 states.
“This case is still in court. There was debate about whether the land should be given to such a company and hence the Law department was consulted. The department had recommended against handing over the land to JSW Steel Ltd. The reason why I brought this issue forwards is because Minister KJ George told the media after the cabinet meeting on May 30 that the company had cleared all dues. When the illegal mining by Janardhana Reddy came to the fore, Congress had campaigned against such activities. This decision will hurt the party and so I brought it up,” HK Patil told TNM.
Meanwhile, Sajjan Jindal, chairman, JSW Group, told the media in Ballari that the company had not indulged in illegalities. “The company has not committed any illegalities. I cannot react on the land alienation issue which is being politicised. This is quite common in politics. People have the right to question the government’s actions in a democratic set-up. This is the beauty of democracy. Nothing’s going to happen if someone opposes it (the land deal),” he said.