Bengaluru, Feb 1 Outrightly rejecting the demand by opposition Congress, the Karnataka government on Monday declared that the probe into the blast in Shivamogga district that killed six people would be conducted by the revenue commissioner.
Taking umbrage over this decision, senior Congress leader and former Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah staged a walkout, alleging that the state government's adamant stand on the probe is a clear indication that they are trying to protect the "high and mighty".
"The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government's adamant stand is a reflection of their actions. Your words on illegal mining and actions do not match. There is suspicion in your commitment, therefore, we (Congress) are staging a walkout in protest," Siddaramaiah said.
Shivamogga is the home district of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa as well as state Revenue Minister K.S. Eshwarappa. The Shivamogga Lok Sabha constituency is represented by Yediyurappa's eldest son B.Y. Raghvendra.
As soon as Home, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Basavaraj Bommai made this announcement, Leader of the Opposition Siddaramaiah asserted that a judicial commission headed by a sitting high court judge should be constituted 'for the truth to come out'.
Bommai repeatedly contended that Karnataka would not allow illegal quarrying or mining in the state.
Six people were killed in a powerful explosion of a truckload of gelatin sticks at a stone crushing unit in Shivamogga district on January 21.
Replying on behalf of the BJP government over the incident and the probe related to it, Bommai admitted that illegal quarrying or mining has been going on for some years now under successive state governments.
He said there was a nexus between landholders, quarry landholders, explosive material suppliers and some officials leading to such illegal activities.
"We need to break it by taking steps like increasing the fines and jail term for breaking rules and making 'mineral protection force' effective," Bommai added.
On the Shivamogga incident, Bommai said officials had given the owners license for crushing despite knowing that illegal mining or quarrying was taking place at the site and cases were booked against them earlier.
"Explosive materials had arrived from Andhra Pradesh. It looks like no rules/ regulations or permit conditions were followed. Investigations are on and we will act stringently against all those responsible," the Minister said.
On Siddaramaiah's demand that those guilty must be booked under Section 302 of IPC for murder, instead of Section 304 (culpable homicide), the state Home Minister asserted that it can be done in due course based on the investigation.
"The government has taken this case seriously, especially transportation and storage of large quantities of explosives. Though reports suggest it was nearly 1,350 kg, only a probe can ascertain it," he said, adding that control on transportation of explosives is necessary to check illegal mining.
The state Home minister said as part of the probe, police have seized such materials in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh which in itself is a worrying sign.
"I am more worried about large quantity of gelatin sticks being transported and imagining its outcome, if this explosive reaches in the hands of anti-social elements or terrorists," he said.
He said the state government was taking steps to control 'excessive hoarding' of explosives, as he noted that cases were booked against those involved under the stringent Explosives Act.
Illegal quarrying or mining would be stopped in Karnataka and only those with licenses would be allowed to function, he added.
"It has been decided that the probe will done by the Revenue Commissioner after the Opposition leader and other leaders had said the Shivamogga Deputy Commissioner K B Shivakumar should not probe as he had not acted against such illegal activities," Bommai added.
Unhappy with Bommai's response, Siddaramaiah demanded that there is involvement of politic and officials in illegal quarrying or mining and urged the BJP government to get a survey done across the state to identify those that are illegal.
"Take strong measures to stop it and take strict action against those involved, especially errant officials," he opined.
Siddaramaih said an independent agency should inquire into the incident and it was not possible for the Revenue Commissioner to do so as summons and warrants have to be issued with the probe stretching to neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.
"If it is not inquired into by a sitting High court judge, the truth will not come out. It is clear that the government was trying to shield someone," he said as he led Congress MLAs in staging a walkout.
Earlier, Siddaramaiah while pointing to reports of large-scale illegal quarrying in the state, especially Shivamogga, urged the BJP government to stop them at once as he also voiced concerns over transportation of large quantities of explosives.
"In the Pulwama blast in Jammu and Kashmir, nearly 250 kg explosives were used whereas reports of the blast in Shivamogga said it was 1,350 kg," he alleged.
Siddaramaiah demanded a criminal case be registered against all errant officials and those who supported illegal activity.
In the state Legislative Council, too, the Congress made a similar demand for the probe, with the Opposition leader S.R. Patil, saying the blast pointed to 'serious lapses' and made a comparison to the explosives quantity used in Pulwama and Shivamogga.
Patil said if illegal mining and unlawful transportation of explosives cannot be controlled by Shivamogga Deputy Commissioner K B Shivakumar and Superintendent of Police K.M. Shantharaj even in the CM's home district, one wondered what the situation would be in the rest of the state.
While BJP MLC Ayanur Manjunath alleged that those who died in the blast were not labourers, but some people engaged in transporting the explosives and were part of the nexus.
The leader of the House, Kota Srinivas Poojary, said the Chief Minister Yediyurappa has assured stringent action against the illegalities.
He said the quarry owner and two of his associates have so far been arrested.
( With inputs from IANS )
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