Bellary billionaires

Published : Nov 16, 2007 00:00 IST

HORSE-TRADING has been an allegation that rival political parties have levelled against each other in the current crisis. Although direct evidence of monetary pay-offs to legislators is virtually impossible to marshal, such pay-offs are a practice many politicians will attest to off the record. Indeed, the allegations of horse-trading have been used by commentators to bolster their arguments in favour of dissolution of the Assembly.

In the 1970s and the 1980s, the excise lobby was a major source of funding for political parties and individual politicians. However, since the early 1990s, and alongside economic liberalisation, two new sources of political funding/corruption have been the real estate and iron-ore mining sectors. Bangalores growth as a high-tech city has resulted in a real-estate boom, with land developers several of them with direct political interests acquiring land at throwaway prices in the citys rural hinterland. These areas have now been opened up for information technology (IT) parks, residential layouts and commercial projects. The land mafia is believed to be the source of much of the slush money in circulation for political parties to use.

A measure of the extent of land-grabbing and speculation on land has been provided by the A.T. Ramaswamy Committee, which was a Joint House Committee set up in June 2006 to inquire into cases of encroachment on government land. It submitted its first interim report in December 2006 and the second one in July 2007.

The committee called the city a haven for land-grabbers where the administrative machinery has utterly failed to take any action against the land-grabbers and their official abettors and promoters. Land in Bangalore, the report says, is valued at Rs.46 crore an acre, and on its outskirts at Rs.1 to 4 crore an acre. As in May 2007, around 30,000 acres in the Bangalore Urban district had been encroached upon, according to the report.

The nexus between mining and political funding is clearer, as several iron-ore billionaires from Bellary are legislators in the Congress, the JD(S) and the BJP. The opening up of mines to private entities in 1999 was followed by a sudden surge in the international price of iron ore from $17 a tonne in 2000-2001 to $55 a tonne in 2005-06. Nearly a quarter of Indias iron ore is located in Bellary and the adjoining regions, and the value of the ore excavated was Rs.3,500 crore in 2005.

Driven by a voracious Chinese demand for ore, India is now the third largest exporter of iron ore in the world after Australia and Brazil (Frontline, June 16, 2006). The Bellary billionaires, it is believed, have invested hugely in funds for election campaigns and also in bribes and pay-offs.

Parvathi Menon
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