The JSW Steel land deal has put the Karnataka Congress in a fix. While Industries Minister K J George was keen on giving clearance to the project, senior Congress leader H K Patil opposed the move and alleged the government was favouring the company by reducing the land price.
In 2005-06, the Congress-JD(S) coalition government headed by N Dharam Singh approved the project proposal in a cabinet meeting. The government later signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to allot 2,000 acres of land at the rate of ₹90,000 per acre on a lease-and-sale agreement (to be sold after 10 years). This was in addition to 1,700 acres of land given for 10 years at ₹1.22 lakh per acre.
George argued that the government was just fulfilling the terms of the MoU signed more than a decade ago and there was no illegality in it. The present cabinet on May 27 gave approval in principal to transfer 3,667 acres of land given to JSW Steel.
However, Patil accused George of misleading people by giving false information on outstanding dues by JSW to state-owned Mysore Minerals Ltd. He cited excerpts of a CAG report to substantiate his claim. He requested the government to weigh the pro and cons of giving government land at throwaway price.
The BJP, too, threatened to start a statewide protest and alleged that the state wanted to clear the project in a hurry as the feared losing power in Karnataka.
This is not the first time George initiated projects came under criticism. In 2016, while he was the Bengaluru Development Minister in chief minister Siddaramaiah’s cabinet, George pushed for Rs 2,000 crore steel flyover project despite it being flagged for violation of environmental laws. The government awarded the contract to construction major L& T. The latter was a contractor for one of JSW Steel’s project to build India’s largest blast furnace in Maharashtra.
But the state government scrapped the project proposal after widespread protests from citizens groups and High Court’s intervention.
While the JSW land deal reached Chief minister’s office, H D Kumaraswamy seems to be upset that it would give the opposition to target the struggling coalition. Kumaraswamy indicated that Congress (George) should clear the controversy and not bring it to him.
Deve Gowda-Rahul Gandhi meeting
With JDS supremo Deve Gowda meeting Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi on Monday, speculations were rife that the former complained about the disarray in the state Congress. He has reportedly sought Gandhi to issue strictures to those obstructing the smooth functioning of the government.
Patil, while he was the rural development and panchayat raj minister, headed a cabinet sub-committee which closely monitored the illegal mining scam in which JSW was named for irregularities.
The sub-committee then recommended the state to be mindful of long-term consequences of giving away land on sale to mining companies.
The government will decide on the issue after the cabinet reshuffle on June 14.