Anand Singh, a four-time MLA from Ballari district of Karnataka, was appointed as the Minister of Forest, Environment and Ecology, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa said on Tuesday. But just days after the appointment, the decision was criticised by the opposition since Anand Singh is accused in as many as 15 illegal mining and forest crimes since 2012.
Anand Singh also has business interests in mining. He was initially made the Minister of Food and Civil Supplies on Monday but a day later he was handed a change in portfolio.
"Our family has been into mining for a long time. There will be cases of small violations, it is not a problem. If you own a motorbike, you will have cases against it. I am content with this portfolio," Anand Singh told reporters when he was questioned over his appointment on Thursday.
However, opposition is growing against the newly appointed minister. Leader of the Opposition and former Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also objected to Singh's appointment as Forest Minister and termed the decision as "not right".
"Modi ji and BJP again come to the rescue of ‘Bellary Gang’! S.C says give reasons for giving tickets to tainted Netas or contempt! Modiji says make tainted Netas not MLA’s alone but Ministers of the ministry, which has been allegedly looted! Will SC issue contempt of PM & Karnataka CM?," tweeted Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala.
"Forest minister facing 15 cases under Forest act. @BSYBJP allotting forest ministry to Anandsingh is illegal since he has over dozen cases pending against him, including serious offenses under Karnataka Forest Act. How can a person charged with serious offences head the ministry?" the Karnataka Congress tweeted.
Even a petition was posted on Change.org calling for the minister to be replaced immediately.
As per Anand Singh's latest election affidavit, there are 15 cases pending against him. The offences are under the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act to be read with violations of the Karnataka Forest Act, 1969.
He was, at one point, closely associated with infamous mining baron Janardhana Reddy, who is also from Ballari. Anand Singh was arrested twice for his involvement in the 2009 Ballari mining scam which rocked the then BJP government in power. In the mining scam, he is accused of criminal conspiracy, theft, criminal breach of trust, cheating and dishonesty, criminal trespass and forgery. The case is currently under trial before a special court in Bengaluru.
He was arrested by CBI in 2013 connection with alleged illegal export of iron ore from Belikeri port in Karnataka. Singh was arrested in 2015 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Lokayukta on charges of illegal transportation of iron ore. In another case, a range forest officer in Hospet in Ballari accused Anand Singh of violating laws in reserved forest areas including altering boundary marks. Eleven of the fifteen cases are being prosecuted by a Special Investigation Team of the Karnataka Lokayukta. Anand 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.
Two of Singh's cabinet colleagues Laxman Savadi and C T Ravi had on Wednesday come out in his defence, stating that cases against him were still being probed and not proven.
As per sources in the BJP, Anand Singh asked for a change in the portfolio after he was allocated the Food and Civil Supplies Department. Although he had his eye on the Energy Ministry, he was instead made the Minister of Forest, Environment and Ecology.
Anand Singh left the Congress and joined the BJP in 2019 along with other rebel leaders to pave the way for the coalition government led by HD Kumaraswamy to fall and for the BJP to take power in the state.
With PTI inputs