The Karnataka Cabinet's decision to sell 3,667 acres of land in Vijayanagar district to JSW has stirred a hornet's nest in the BJP.

B. S. Yediyurappa
news Politics Wednesday, May 19, 2021 - 19:05

Exactly two years ago, on June 14, 2019, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa, who was then the opposition leader in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly, had staged a three-day-and-night dharna in front of the Mahatma Gandhi statue near Maurya hotel in Bengaluru. Unmindful of his health, he stayed put before the statue, braving the sweltering heat, taking occasional breaks in a makeshift tent where two air coolers had been installed. The protest was against the Kumaraswamy government's decision on May 27, 2019, to sell 3,667 acres of land in Toranagallu and Hosapete — both in Vijayanagar district — to Jindal Steel Works (JSW), as per their initial lease-cum-sale deed, when the company set up its operation in early 2000.

Relenting to the BJP's protest and under pressure from senior leaders of the Congress who were coalition partners, Kumaraswamy deferred the decision to change the land title from "lease’’ to "absolute sale'' and appointed a Cabinet sub-committee to review it. A month later, Kumaraswamy resigned after his government was reduced to a minority, and the issue was put on the back burner.

Yediyurappa however has made a U-turn now, with his Cabinet deciding on April 26 this year to sell the land to JSW — at the same rate which had been decided by his predecessor.  A rate that Yediyurappa had then alleged was a  "throwaway price for monetary considerations''. The Cabinet’s decision has however upset a section of BJP MLAs. Four MLAs — Uday B Garudachar (Chickpet), K Poornima (Hiriyur), Arvind Bellad (Hubballi-Dharwad West) and Basannagouda Patil Yatnal (Vijayapura city) sent a letter to Yediyurappa reminding him of the stand he had taken in 2019. The issue is said to have reached the BJP central leadership.

Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai has defended the sale of land saying, "The situation was different in 2019 and it's now essential to encourage industries.'' He was supported by Industries Minister Jagadish Shettar, who said the state government would be sending a wrong message globally by not permitting the sale.

Even as the disgruntled MLAs have been asked to hold on for some time due to the COVID-19 crisis, the decision is bound to cause problems for Yediyurappa. A legal notice was issued by the state's former Prosecutor S Doreraju on behalf of his client, social activist KA Paul to Yediyurappa and the entire council of ministers on May 16.

Doreraju, a Sangh Parivar member and architect of the JD(S)-BJP government in 2006, told TNM that a complaint letter has been submitted before the Chief Justice of India, urging the apex court to suo motu take up the issue as a Public Interest Litigation and permit Paul to appear as a party in person. Similar letters have also been filed in the Karnataka High Court, before the Karnataka Lokayukta, and the National Green Tribunal with copies sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and party leaders JP Nadda and BL Santhosh.

Doreraju said the government has decided to sell the 3,667 acres of land to JSW at Rs 1.22 lakh per acre, which had been opposed by Yediyurappa in 2019.  "Jindal is not a waste land as it contains minerals worth thousands of crores. The current value of the land is said to be Rs 1 crore per acre,'' he added. According to BJP sources some senior ministers in the Cabinet meeting are said to have advised Yediyurappa not to go ahead with the decision as it would only cause embarrassment to the government, which is already being harangued on COVID management.