Karnataka minister Anand Singh plays down criminal cases, says they are like traffic offences

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Karnataka Forest Minister Anand Singh.

Karnataka’s new Minister for Forest, Ecology and Environment Anand Singh, who has 15 criminal cases pending against him — including three being prosecuted by CBI and one by the Forest Department, now under him — has equated cases against him to “traffic offences’’ in an ostensible effort to dilute their seriousness.

The businessman-turned-politician from Vijayanagara constituency, in the iron ore-rich Ballari region, claimed “mining offences are like traffic offences’’ for him since his family has interests in mining and transportation businesses in Ballari region.

“When you own a vehicle, there are bound to be trafic offences registered against you. In the same way it is quite natural for cases of forest rule violations to be filed since my family has been in the mining business for many years,’’ the new Forest Minister in the BJP government of B S Yediyurappa told reporters when asked about his appointment despite an obvious conflict of interest due to the pending cases.

Singh also claimed that Yediyurappa himself offered him the Forest portfolio, and that he did not express an interest in it. Singh, among the Congress MLAs who had joined the BJP in July 2019 to bring down the then Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka, was initially given the Food and Civil Supplies portfolio on February 10. But a day later, he was assigned the Forest ministry.

While Singh said he did not ask for the change in portfolio, and that the Chief Minister “himself gave it to me”, sources in BJP said the re-designation occurred after the minister expressed unhappiness over the Food and Civil Supplies portfolio. Sources said Singh approached Yediyurappa with claims that he had the backing of a few senior leaders in the party, which led to the change in portfolio.

Criticising the decision to give Singh the Forests portfolio, former Karnataka CM and Congress leader Siddaramaiah said: “Yediyurappa should have applied his mind... It is not right to allocate Forest Ministry to a person facing cases under the Forest Act.”

“Allotting forest ministry to Anand Singh is illegal since he has over dozen cases pending against him, including serious offenses under Karnataka Forest Act. How can a person charged with serious offences head the ministry?” the state Congress tweeted from its official handle, tagging CM Yediyurappa.

State ministers, including Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi, however, claimed that it is all right to appoint Singh as the Forest Minister since trials in the cases against him were yet to conclude.”Once charges are proved the party will take action,’’ Savadi said.