Bellary/Bangalore: It is being called one of the biggest scandals in the country, even bigger than Bofors, say investigators. But how is the Bellary mining mafia running the racket despite the uproar? Karnataka Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde was the first person to blow the lid off illegal mining operations in Bellary.
"I found illegal mining going on practically everywhere in the district of Bellary," Justice Hegde had said a few weeks ago.
While Karnataka government has announced two investigations, none of it has helped.
CNN-IBN ventured into the Ramanadurga forest, a forest that's off limits for mining. Behind the Ramanadurga temple, mining pits are visible along with lumps of ore and roads deep inside to transport all the equipments, people and ore.
When asked who the owner of the mine was, a guard posted there says it belongs to Reddys. "Janardhana Reddy," he replies when asked which owns the mine.
He also says Janardhana Reddy is a minister adding that he has been told by another owner of the mines.
So how rampant is illegal mining? The government admits more than 1 crore metric tones of ore worth Rs 1,600 crore was shipped illegally in the last two years, but that is just an official version.
"In our assessment 5 to 6 crore tons of materials has been looted from mines. It's not a small scam. It's nearly Rs 25,000 to 30,000 crore scam," says Congress MLC KC Kondaiah.
"How much was Bofors. Rs 67 crore? What has been discovered till now is only one port - Belekeri. We are yet to reach Karwar. We are yet to reach Mangalore. The ore is going to Vizag and Krishnepet on east coast," says Justice Hegde.
Accusations apart, one thing is clear that mining cannot be carried out secretly. It needs blasting, drilling, machinery, roads for trucks and people. So if it's happening easily, it can't happen without the silent blessings of the government, mine surveyors, forest and police officials, fake permits and looking the other way.