Karnataka Congress MLA Lakshmi Hebbalkar from Belagavi Rural appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) on September 20 (Friday) to record her statement in connection with the money laundering case against jailed Congress leader D K Shivakumar.
Hebbalkar, a Lingayat from Belagavi, has a long association with Shivakumar. While the Income tax department raided the premises of Hebbalkar and her political opponent (former small scale industries minister) Ramesh Jarkiholi premises, the official found undisclosed assets worth ₹162 crores. Besides that, the documents also revealed Benami assets and undisclosed investments.
Subsequently, when the IT department officials raided Shivakumar’s residence in 2017, the latter had made a phone call to Hebbalkar which led the ED to suspect her financial dealings.
Hebbalkar rose to power in the backdrop of her involvement in the women’s political movement and her controversial roles in the Sugar companies in the region.
According to a source who closely worked with Hebbalkar before 2010 says, she was the director of Bhagyalakshmi Sahakari Sakkare kharkhane (co-operative sugar factory) that was established in the 1980s. And the cooperative was involved in financial irregularities and during a meeting with the then Chief Minister S M Krishan about the revival of the company that she got introduced to D K Shivakumar. Subsequent their association grew stronger with Shivakumar backing her politically.
However, in view of the large-scale irregularities, the factory landed in financial trouble and eventually led to a private company (Laila Sugars Pvt Ltd in Khanapur, Belagavi) take control of the sugar co-operative factory.
“At a time when Congress was facing difficulties in Belagavi, Hebbalkar’s organisational skills made her emerge as an effective party worker. This drew the attention of party leaders who backed her ever since and gave her more prominent roles,” the source said.
Apparently, DK Shivakumar had allegedly allocated G category sites that were earmarked for people in public life as directed by the government to Hebbalkar’s family members. Former Karnataka Congress Committee member Shankar Munavalli had filed a case in the court in this regard and said sites belonging to Belagavi Urban Development Authority were distributed (in 2004) indiscriminately when Shivakumar was the urban development minister during SM Krishna regime.
Munavalli is currently hospitalised due to ill health and declined to comment for the story.
She later contested and won the 2013 Assembly polls from Belagavi Rural. And later was made the president of state women’s Congress. She unsuccessfully contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. At that time her declared assets were ₹8 crore. And it increased by 3.5 times by the time she contested the next election in 2018. As per the affidavit submitted to the election commission, her assets in 2018 was ₹27.4 crore.
In 2014, Hebbalkar and her family members set up Harsha Sugars Ltd in Belgaum with an initial capital of ₹69.9 crore. She and her son Mrinal Hebbalkar are directors in the company.
According to the documents accessed by this reporter, Harsha Sugars which started with a crusshing capacity of 4500 tonnes of cane per day (TCD), within three years wanted to expand its capacity to 7,500 tonnes per day at a proposed project cost of ₹307.32 crore.
Questions were raised as to how Hebbalkar, who was having assets worth mere ₹8 crore, could rake in money (₹304.32 crore) almost 40 times her total assets worth required for the project.
Subsequently, Deccan Herald reported on how co-operative banks sanctioned huge loans on paltry security to Lakshmi’s company Harsha Sugars.
Besides, Hebbalkar was also involved in illegal tendering of solar projects in the state. Her relative bought agriculture land just two months before the Karnataka government called e-tender for solar power purchase. The e-tendering process in which her relatives participated and won was over in 7.24 minutes. D K Shivakumar was the Energy minister in the state then.
Further, to wield his political power in North Karnataka, Shivakumar backed Hebbalkar’s group to contest against the Jarkiholi brothers for the primary land development (PLD) bank president post in Belagavi in 2018. Her group emerged victorious and that angered one of the Jarkiholi brothers, Ramesh Jarkiholi, who caused trouble to the previous COngres-JDS coalition government.
In June 2019, she and her family members started a real estate company Harsha Builders and Developers with a capital investment of ₹215 crore. Hebbalkar, her brother and her son are active directors in the company.
Even though several Congress party workers raised alarms and asked the then Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to act on the IT raids and brazen illegalities commited by Hebbalkar, he merely promised to check and decide if it was required to sack her. However, her political influence with Shivakumar let her stay in the game.