Karnataka legislature meets Monday, Congress on back foot
Karnataka's ruling Congress goes into the legislature session beginning Monday on the back foot as it got rid of mining baron Santosh Lad from the ministry over illegal mining charges just ahead of the meet after repeatedly rejecting opposition demands for his removal.
Lad, 38, who held the information and infrastructure development portfolios, submitted his resignation to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah late Friday.
A mining magnate from the iron-ore rich district of Bellary, about 300 km north of Bangalore, Lad is the first member of the six-month old Congress ministry to leave under a cloud.
Though his resignation meets the opposition demand, the manner it came about seems to show the Congress in a poor light as it was secured even as Siddaramaiah kept asserting that neither he nor the state or central party leadership was planning to remove Lad from the ministry.
Even as late as Friday, Siddaramaiah's stand was that he has not sought Lad's resignation though the buzz in political and media circles here was that the mining baron would lose his job before the legislature session begins.
All that changed in 24 hours with Lad resigning and claiming that he was doing so on his own to avoid "embarrassment" to the government and the party. The opposition, particularly the Bharatiya Janata Party, had announced that it would take up Lad's removal in a big way during the session.
The 10-day session will be held in the north Karnataka town of Belguam, about 500 km from Bangalore.
The BJP, whose five year-rule 2008-13 was marred by the massive illegal iron ore mining and export scandal, among many others, had held demonstrations and petitioned Governor H. R. Bhardwaj for sacking Lad.
The Karnataka Janata Party of former BJP leader B. S. Yeddyurappa was also seeking Lad's resignation while an NGO, Samaja Parivartana Samudaya, had been releasing documents claiming that the minister's firm was indeed involved in illegal mining and exports.
While Lad's resignation takes away a major issue the opposition was planning to use to attack the government, it would still face the heat over several decisions which have led to major controversies.
Prominent among them is the government plans to provide Rs.50,000 each as aid to facilitate the marriage of women from minority communities.
All the opposition parties have been demanding that the facility be extended to the poor from all communities.
Yeddyurappa has been on a dharna or sit-in protest in the Bangalore city centre since Oct 31 seeking extension of the "Bidai" or "Shaadi Bhagya" scheme to poor women from all communities. He plans to continue the protest in Belgaum during the session.
The other issue the opposition parties, particularly the BJP, plan to raise during the session is remunerative prices for sugarcane. The government recently fixed Rs.2,500 per tonne of cane but a section of growers is agitating for increasing the amount by around Rs.1,000.
Former BJP chief minister and now party leader in the assembly Jagadish Shettar told reporters here Friday that getting a higher price for sugarcane farmers was a priority item on the party's agenda for the session.
Shettar's party colleague and former home minister R. Ashoka said the security situation in Bangalore was deteriorating as evidenced by the brutal attack on a woman in an ATM on Tuesday and the issue would be raised during the session.
(Posted on 24-11-2013)