A controversy has erupted in Karnataka over Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa’s decision to appoint newly-elected MLA Anand Singh as the minister for forest, environment and ecology. The opposition parties in the state have hit out at the BJP government for appointing Anand Singh, a mining baron, as the forest minister.
Who is Anand Singh?
Anand Singh, a four-time MLA from Vijayanagara, is a businessman with mining interests and a former close-associate of infamous mining barons Bellari Reddy brothers. Singh, who has assets worth over Rs 100 crore, entered into politics in 2008 along with the Reddy brothers.
He first served as tourism minister in the first Yediyurappa government in 2008. However, he later quit the BJP to join the Congress ahead of the 2018 elections claiming he was fed up with internal bickering within the party.
Interestingly, Anand Singh was one of the few Congress MLAs who had gone missing in 2018 ahead of BS Yediyurappa’s trust vote. However, Singh made a dramatic entry to Vidhana Soudha later in the day, being escorted by senior Congress leader DK Shivakumar.
Later in 2019, Anand Singh is one among the newly-elected BJP legislators who had defected from Congress. He was one of the 17 MLAs who quit the Congress-JDS coalition and joined BJP, which led to the collapse of HD Kumaraswamy-led Karnataka government.
Singh, along with 16 other MLAs, was disqualified by the former assembly speaker. Though the Supreme Court had upheld the disqualification, it had allowed the MLAs to contest elections again.
Later, Singh contested and won the recently held by-polls on a BJP ticket. He was inducted into the Cabinet by Yediyurappa last week. He was initially given the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumers Affairs portfolio. However, the Vijayanagara MLA’s was later appointed as Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment.
According to Singh’s election affidavit, the MLA has listed 15 pending cases against him. He was reportedly arrested twice in 2013 and 2015 on charges of illegal transportation of iron ore.
Reportedly, these offences fall under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, along with violations of the Karnataka Forest Act. They include charges of criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating, dishonesty, illegal transport or movement of forest produce and forgery of documents.
Singh, a former associate of the mining barons – Reddy brothers, was arrested in 2015 by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Karnataka Lokayukta on charges of illegal iron ore transportation.
In one of the cases, filed by the Range Forest Officer, Hosapete, Singh was accused of ‘counterfeiting or defacing’ marks on trees or timber and altering boundary marks within the forest.
Anand Singh was also arrested in 2013 as well in connection with alleged illegal export of iron ore from Belekeri port. In September 2019, Singh was acquitted in one case pertaining to the alleged export of 1.3 lakh tonnes of iron ore from Belekeri.
‘Conflict of interest’ allegations
Several state leaders, opposition parties, social media users and former Lokayukta Santhosh Hegde have voiced concerns over the portfolio allocation. Since many cases against Singh are being pursued by the forest department, many have also alleged that his appointment sends a wrong message to the officials.
Following the controversy, Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa on Wednesday met senior ministers and discussed the possibility of changing the Vijayanagara MLAs’s portfolio.
Meanwhile, Anand Singh has maintained that the portfolio was allocated to him by the chief minister and that he did not ask for it.
Claiming that the cases against him were ‘minor violations’, he claimed the cases are related to traffic violations.”Traffic violation cases if you have vehicles, similarly- there are naturally cases of violation as the family has been in the mining business for long.”