Bangalore: Karnataka Lokayukta (ombudsman) Santosh Hegde, who resigned in frustration on Wednesday, expressed helplessness in protecting an honest officer from being suspended for exposing the disappearance of illegal iron ore seized by his team in March.
"A cabinet minister wanted an officer to be suspended for having exposed attempts to export illegal iron ore from Belekeri port that was seized by our team in a raid on March 20. When the officer sought my help, I could not do anything," an agitated Hegde told reporters after tendering his resignation to Governor H R Bhardwaj.
Singling out the mining lobby for indulging in illegal mining of iron ore in north Karnataka's Bellary district and the massive corruption behind such activities, an anguished Hegde said he could not continue to be a mute spectator when he was not able to protect an honest officer who was obeying his or his colleague’s orders.
"Is this the reward (for an honest officer)? My officers have suffered. I decided I should not continue if I cannot be their protector, especially when I know they are honest officers," asserted Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge and son of former Lok Sabha speaker K S Hegde.
Referring to the disappearance of five lakh tonnes of illegal iron ore valued at Rs 250 crore out of the 3.5 million tonnes seized in March, Hegde said the actual stock could have been five million tonnes.
"You can imagine what would have been the loss to the exchequer if the entire stock of 3.5 million or 5 million tonnes of iron ore had been exported or disappeared?
Assistant forest conservator Narendra Hittamalamakki, who was investigating the case, on June 6 found five lakh tonnes from the confiscated stock missing from the Belekeri port where it was stored following a directive from a local court at nearby Ankola.
When port authorities learnt that the missing stock was illegally exported to China, the State mines and geology department ordered an inquiry.
The State forest department also filed a complaint in Ankola police station against 11 firms, which were under investigation for being involved in transporting illegal iron ore from Bellary mines.
As a quasi judicial anti-corruption investigation agency, the Lokayukta directed the deputy conservator of forests, Karwar, to register a case of theft and breach of trust against officials of the Belekeri port and customs authorities for allowing the seized material to be shipped without legal clearance.
The Karwar deputy conservator also complained to the chief vigilance commissioner against the customs officials for allowing the export of the seized iron ore from the stockyard.
In a related development, the Union Ministry of Mines directed the Indian Bureau of Mines to probe the disappearance of the seized iron ore, suspecting a nexus between the mining sharks and top State government officials.