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Chief minister of Karnataka resigns over corruption charges

BS Yeddyurappa accused over illegal iron-ore mining that a 464-page report says cost the state almost 160 billion rupees.

Karnataka's chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, gestures to the crowd after submitting his resignation in Bangalore. AFP PHOTO/ STR
Karnataka's chief minister, BS Yeddyurappa, gestures to the crowd after submitting his resignation in Bangalore. AFP PHOTO/ STR

NEW DELHI // The chief minister of the southern state of Karnataka has resigned, becoming the fifth high-ranking politician in India to resign or be arrested in the past nine months over corruption charges.

In a scathing 464-page report, N Santosh Hegde, Karnataka's corruption ombudsman, laid out the involvement of the minister, BS Yeddyurappa, in illegal iron-ore mining in the district of Bellary. Mr Hegde estimated that the mining, and the lost taxes and royalties therein, cost the state almost 160 billion rupees (Dh13.3bn).

Several hundred other parties, including members of Mr Yeddyurappa's cabinet, private companies and bureaucrats, were also accused in Mr Hegde's report, of involvement in the illegal mining. He wrote that the mining cabal had transformed the district into a fiefdom known, in industry circles, as the "Republic of Bellary".

"[The] law of the land was seemed to have been suspended," the report reads. "Consequently administration has allowed to loot the natural resources, in this case the iron ore, which continued without any opposition. Huge bribes were paid. Mafia-type operations were the routine practices of the day."

The report pointed out as key evidence the "donation" of more than 100 million rupees from a mining company to an education trust run by Mr Yeddyurappa and his family as well as other money distributed to the former chief minister.

"I am of the opinion," Mr Hegde wrote, "that … the donation and the excess payment made to the family members of the Chief Minister" were used to buy special favours.

Before his announcement late on Sunday, Mr Yeddyurappa, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), refused to resign for nearly a week after the submission of the report, even as his party's high command urged him to step down.

At a rally held by hundreds of his political supporters in Karnataka's capital, Bangalore, on Sunday afternoon, Mr Yeddyurappa insisted that he was innocent, and that he had tried to stop mineral resources from being plundered.

"Karnataka is a rich state and has a lot of minerals," he said in his speech.

"I wrote a letter to the prime minister to stop export of iron ore. I banned iron-ore mining and said that the ore would be available only for value-added products. I tried to stop rich minerals from being handled by a handful of individuals."

Last November, the chief minister of the state of Maharashtra, Ashok Chavan, left office after he was suspected of misusing his powers to secure flats for his relatives in an upscale housing co-operative.

In April, Suresh Kalmadi was forced to step down as president of the Indian Olympic Association, after he was accused of mismanaging funds for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Mr Kalmadi now shares New Delhi's Tihar Jail with A Raja, the telecommunications minister who resigned in November after being accused of subverting the allocation process for 2G spectrum, leading to potential losses to the state exchequer of up to $38bn. Both men are at different stages of the trial process. The 2G scandal, as it has come to be known, also took down Dayanidhi Maran, who was the minister for telecommunications before Mr Raja. Mr Maran resigned from the textile ministry after investigators accused him of using his position to force the sale of a mobile telephone firm to one of his own business associates.

Mr Yeddyurappa's resignation came as the Indian parliament was suspended yesterday just hours after opening its new session. Opposition MPs caused a commotion shouting angry anti-corruption slogans. The session is expected to resume today and MPs will prepare to debate a bill that will create the position of a corruption ombudsman for the central government - a national-level equivalent of the post that Mr Hegde holds.

Anil Bairwal, national co-ordinator for a New Delhi-based non-profit called Association for Democratic Reforms, views India's recent spate of corruption controversies as part of a trend he has been tracking for several years. His organisation collects data on the number of state and central legislators with charges against them.

In the parliament that resulted from elections in 2009, Mr Bairwal's organisation found more than 500 registered cases against the elected legislators. Nearly 30 per cent of the members of parliament had criminal charges registered against their name.

"The numbers," Mr Bairwal said, "are just ridiculously high." He added that the role of an independent corruption ombudsman had now become essential, because other investigating authorities "are really controlled by the government itself".

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

Correction: This headline of the article was changed on August 2, 2011 to correctly reflect the status of BS Yeddyurappa.