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Land troubles

Print edition : Dec 17, 2010 T+T-
B.S. Yeddyurappa offering sweets to his son and BJP candidate B.Y. Raghavendra after his election from the Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. A file photograph.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

B.S. Yeddyurappa offering sweets to his son and BJP candidate B.Y. Raghavendra after his election from the Shimoga Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. A file photograph.-THE HINDU ARCHIVES

B.S. Yeddyurappa faces allegations of corruption and nepotism over allotment of denotified land acquired by government agencies.

CORRUPTION scandals have rocked the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ever since it came to power in Karnataka in 2008. First it was the illegal mining activities involving Ministers in the B.S. Yeddyurappa government. Now, allegations of murky land allotments have once again troubled the Chief Minister. The allegations, made mainly by members of the Janata Dal (Secular), have been flying thick and fast since October. The names of senior Cabinet Ministers also figure in the land grab scam.

The opposition has actually made three kinds of allegations against the Chief Minister. The first set came up on October 1 when JD(S) State president H.D. Kumaraswamy stated at a press conference that the Chief Minister's signature had been forged to denotify 7.5 acres (one acre = 0.4 hectare) of land acquired by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), a government agency, for the formation of a residential layout in Arkavathy, on the outskirts of Bangalore. He pointed to the two different signatures on the government orders directing the denotification. The Chief Minister, did not deny that he had affixed the two signatures. He claimed that he had two signatures, and this provided more grist to the opposition's mill.

The accusations in this category mainly pertained to the denotification of select pieces of land acquired by the BDA allegedly to benefit the Chief Minister's sons and his other relatives, including his son-in-law R.N. Sohan Kumar. These denotified sites are in areas that command a fairly high market value.

Documents in possession of Frontline show that 3.7 acres of land in Arkavathy Layout was denotified by the Chief Minister's office. This was soon after the BDA had even formed a residential layout. Frontline also possesses documentary evidence of denotification of several acres of land in other parts of Bangalore as well. As many of these denotified lands are in developing areas, where the land value is high, the opposition and the media have been quoting a rough figure of Rs.500 crore to describe the quantum of money involved in the scam.

One sale deed in possession of Frontline shows that agricultural land bearing survey number 56, situated at Rachenahalli village and measuring 16 guntas (40 guntas make an acre), was denotified on November 3, 2008, and sold to M/S Davalagiri Property Developers Private Limited (a company whose director is R.N. Sohan Kumar) on May 6, 2009, for Rs.60 lakh. The records of sale of denotified lands such as these have bolstered the opposition's accusations of corruption in the Chief Minister's office.

In his defence, the Chief Minister stated that the process of denotification of private lands acquired by the BDA and KIADB [Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board] for various purposes, is a routine practice during all regimes [sic]. Providing details about how many acres were denotified by previous governments, he stated on November 15 that ...at this stage I do not want to unnecessarily drag the names of these senior leaders into controversy [sic] although he went on to state that 633 acres of land was denotified during S.M. Krishna's tenure, 110 acres during Dharam Singh's time, and 266 acres during Kumaraswamy's tenure. He went on to state that he had personally denotified 259 acres during the previous two-and-a-half years and denied that it benefited his family members.

An allegation in the second category is that the Chief Minister allotted a prime piece of BDA real estate to his son, B.Y. Raghavendra, under the discretionary quota (G' category). For allotment of a site under this category, the applicant should file an affidavit that he does not own any other site within the municipal limits of Bangalore. The JD(S) has claimed that the affidavit filed in this connection was false as Raghavendra already owned property in the city. Raghavendra is the Member of Parliament from Shimoga, the political base of his father, who was elected from Shikaripur Assembly constituency in Shimoga district.

According to the Bangalore Development Authority (Allotment of Sites) Rules, 1984, and the circular of revised guidelines of 1997 dealing with the allotment of stray sites by the BDA, 30 per cent of stray sites can be given to persons in public life as directed by the government.

One of the conditions for the allotment of stray sites is that the allottee must not own a site or a house in Bangalore Metropolitan Area and has not been allotted a site or a house by the Bangalore Development Authority or by any other Authority within the Bangalore Metropolitan Area. The opposition has used this clause to attack Yeddyurappa for allotting a site in a prime residential area in Rajmahal Vilas, an upmarket locality in Bangalore, to Raghavendra. Yeddyurappa has defended this by stating that allotment of sites to sitting and former MLAs, MPs, achievers in various fields etc., under G' category is in practice from several years and during all regimes.... On the same lines, allotment of a site to B.Y. Raghavendra under M.P quota is not violative of any rules [ sic].

The third set of allegations pertains to favours shown to business concerns owned by the relatives of the Chief Minister by way of denotification of BDA lands. The opposition has alleged that bogus private companies such as Sahyadri Health Care and Diagnostics Private Limited (the main shareholders of this company are Raghavendra and Yeddyurappa's other son, Vijayendra) were set up to receive illegal gratification' for denotification of prime urban land in Banashankari in Bangalore valued at several crores. This company has also been quickly allotted industrial land through the Karnataka Industrial Areas Development Board (KIADB) just a month after the formation of the company. While a prima facie case of malfeasance cannot be established against Yeddyurappa, the timeline of the setting up and denotification of prime land is suspect considering the fact that the company is inactive. In his defence, the Chief Minister has claimed that our family has a sincere concern for the cause of education and health care in rural areas, but the actions of the bogus companies prove otherwise.

Similar allegations have been made against Davalagiri Property and Developers Private Limited and Bhagath Homes Private Limited. The opposition claims that these companies have been incorporated merely to receive money in lieu of denotification of prime lands in the guise of advance from miners. These companies are inactive, and according to documents in the possession of Frontline. the Chief Minister's relatives are major shareholders in them. The amount received as advance by these companies runs into several crores.

The JD(S) filed a formal complaint with the Lokayukta on November 18 against Yeddyurappa, Raghavendra and other officers of the personal section of the Chief Minister & Bangalore Development Authority and the Chief Minister's Secretariat. Even as the Lokayukta, N. Santosh Hegde, was perusing the complaint, the Chief Minister appointed B. Padmaraj, former judge of the Karnakata High Court, on November 22 to look into the matter. A miffed Lokayukta said that the decision to transfer the inquiry was taken without his concurrence (see interview).

The Padmaraj commission will inquire into all the illegalities regarding the allotment of sites and denotification of land by the BDA. Its mandate also requires it to probe the allegations of illegal denotification of lands by the KIADB, the Karnataka Housing Board (KHB) and the urban local bodies and fix responsibility. Interestingly, the scope of the commission covers the period from 1995 to November 2010. The commission has been given a year's time to come out with its report. By extending the scope of the commission, Yeddyurappa hopes to bring out plenty of skeletons from the cupboard, thereby implicating the Congress and the JD(S) as well.

The appointment of the commission also points to the underlying tension between the Chief Minister and the Lokayukta. Santosh Hegde had resigned earlier this year because of differences with the government over the powers of the Lokayukta. Clearly, the space for the Lokayukta has shrunk, but Hegde's resignation earned him a lot of public support, and people demonstrated their resentment against corruption.

The tenacity with which Yeddyurappa is clinging to power, although the general mood even within the BJP favours getting rid of him, seems to be driven by the fact that the previous governments, too, had indulged in similar corrupt activities.