Bangalore, November 22, 2013, DHNS: In a setback to the barely six-month-old Siddaramaiah-led Congress government, Minister of State for Information and Infrastructure Development Santosh Lad bowed out of the council of ministers late Friday as a fallout of his name and business being linked to illegal mining in Bellary.
The resignation comes three days ahead of the state legislature session commencing in Belgaum, bringing down the strength of the ministry to 29 with five berths vacant.
Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, after obtaining the party high command nod, had asked Lad to put in his papers on Thursday. Making a futile bid to pull strings in New Delhi, Lad submitted his resignation to Siddaramaiah on Friday evening. State Congress chief G Parameshwara too asked Lad to obey the chief minister’s bidding.
Thirty-eight-year-old Lad was the youngest minister of Siddaramaiah’s team. He is an MLA from Kalghatagi of Dharwad district, though a native of Bellary.
Both Siddaramaiah and Parameshwara had stoutly defended Lad saying that there was no evidence that Lad’s firm V S Lad & Sons had committed any illegality in mining. No amount of pressure from the BJP, civil society, social activists and freedom fighter H S Doreswamy from trhe last three months could make the chief minister drop Lad.
Governor H R Bharadwaj had received petitions from various groups and individuals stating that Lad does not deserve to be a minister as his firm was “involved in illegal mining”. The petitions were forwarded to Siddaramaiah seeking his comments.
But the turnaround came when BJP leaders pressed for Lad’s resignation and also threatened to disrupt rountine business at the Belgaum legislature session until their demand was met.
Two-time MLA Lad, a first time minister, made a last ditch effort even before demitting office to retain his ministerial berth. He met Parameshwara and Siddaramaiah twice to convince them that he was ‘innocent’ and there were no records to show that he had committed illegal mining at anytime. But both did not come to his support. Had he insisted on continuing, then the chief minister would have dropped him, it is said.
Lad arrived at Siddaramaiah’s residence around 7.35 pm Friday. He was accompanied by E Tukaram, Sandur Congress MLA. He was closeted with the chief minister for about 25 minutes. When he came out and faced the media, he said, “I have submitted my resignation in the interest of the party and the government. There was no pressure on me from any quarter to do so. The chief minister was surprised at my decision. He tried to console me. But at the same time he appreciated my move. Now the Opposition parties have nothing left to debate.”
Insisting that he had voluntarily resigned, Lad said, “I felt that when the investigation into ‘C’ category mines is on, it would not be right for me to be in the council of ministers. The Opposition wanted to make a big issue out of it.”
He argued that the Central Empowered Committee constituted by the Supreme Court had included his mining company under C category on the charge that the firm had over dumped ore. But it was a very small margin of 0.17 ha or 1900 sq ft, which is within permissible limits.