Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa’s decision to appoint Anand Singh as the Forest minister has raised ‘conflict of interest’ questions, especially since he has over a dozen cases pending against him, including serious offenses under the Karnataka Forest Act.
The Supreme Court on Thursday directed all political parties to upload on their website details of pending criminal cases against candidates contesting polls, noting that there has been an alarming increase in criminalization of politics. The apex court has said that political parties will also have to upload reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases on their website. A bench headed by Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman said the reasons for selecting candidates with pending criminal cases should be justifiable with reference to qualification and merit and not merely on winnability.
Taking note of “alarming” rise of #criminalizationofpolitics, the #SupremeCourt on Thursday directed all political parties to publish within 48 hours the details of criminal antecedents of their candidates in the #LokSabha and Assembly polls.
Read more: https://t.co/ArI8MlPi16 pic.twitter.com/oa10umACSx
— Live Law (@LiveLawIndia) February 13, 2020
Ironically, a few days before the direction by the apex court, the Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa on Tuesday rewarded the portfolio of Ministry for Forest, Ecology and Environment Department to Anand Singh, four-time MLA from mine-rich Ballari district of north-east Karnataka. He accused of illegal mining and forest crimes in 15 cases pending against him since 2012.
Singh (53) was made minister of food and civil supplies on Monday but was given the forest, ecology, and environment ministry a day later, after he demanded a change in portfolio, despite the charges of illegal mining and violation of forest laws pending against him from the BJP’s previous tenure (2008-13).
The Chief Minister’s decision has raised serious questions of ‘conflict of interest’ as he has over a dozen cases pending against him, including serious offenses under the Karnataka Forest Act. Having a close relationship with BJP’s Reddy brothers, Singh is facing several of these cases in connection with the multi-crore illegal mining scam. Questions need to be answered about the propriety of appointing a minister who is being prosecuted by the very officers who will report to him.
Who is Anand Singh?
Singh is a mining baron who calls himself an agriculturist-businessman in his election affidavit. With assets worth over Rs 100 crore, he took a plunge into politics in 2008 along with the Reddy brothers. He first served as tourism minister in the Yediyurappa government itself in 2008-13. However, he later quit the BJP to join the Congress ahead of the 2018 elections claiming he was fed up with the ‘squabbling and bickering’ within the party.
In May 2018, when Yediyurappa began to lure opposition MLAs to form the government, Singh was one of the few legislators who had agreed to support the BJP. When Yediyurappa was to face his crucial trust vote, Singh went missing. Singh had earlier claimed he was ‘threatened with criminal cases’ by the BJP and was being forced to vote in favor of Yediyurappa. When Congress and JD(S) formed a coalition government, He joined the rebels who flew to Mumbai and parked themselves there till the Kumaraswamy government fell in July 2019.
What are the cases against him?
Singhs election affidavit filed ahead of the December 2019 byelections mentioned that he has 15 cases pending against him, as also offenses under the Indian Penal Code and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, to be read with violations of the Karnataka Forest Act. 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 but was later released on bail.
In another case, a Range Forest Officer had filed a case against Singh alleging that Singh was defacing marks on trees or timber and altering boundary marks within the forest. How can he be given the Ministry of Forest when he himself tried to encroach on the forest land?
What does BJP’s support mean to Anand Singh?
BJP has always helped its supporters and allies to get rid of pending cases against them. The Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh in December 2017 had ordered the withdrawal of a 1995 case related to defying prohibitory orders against Yogi Adityanath himself and 14 others, including a Union minister and a BJP MLA. Even a case of murder that took place in 1999 was dismissed by a special court in July 2019. Yogi was alleged to have killed head constable Satya Prakash Yadav 20 years ago.
Ajit Pawar has also been given a clean chit in the Maharashtra irrigation scam just days after he ditched his uncle Sharad and joined hands with the BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra. In a similar fashion, Anand Singh will be confident that his support to BJP will reward him clean-chit from all the pending cases against him.