Friday, July 23, 2010

Bellary: Rich Reddy's vs poor locals

It has been rumoured that the Reddy brothers of Bellary are constructing a 60 bedroom bomb proof house. This fact was however vehemently denied by Janardhan Reddy at a press conference last Monday. Whatever the truth may be, the fact remains that the rich get richer in Bellary and this is something that is echoed even by the residents of that place.

Janardhan Reddy says that the focus is on him since the people are unable to digest the fact that the son of a former police constable has risen to such great heights. They make allegations against me, but I am pure like 24 carat gold he says.

While in Bellary, people speak in hush hush tones about the money that these brothers have. Swanky cars, choppers and state of art campaign vehicles just to name a few. The kind of money power that the Reddy brothers have was indicated by the statement of Janardhan Reddy in the assembly last year when he said, “ people say I am worth Rs 100 crore. I want to correct them. I am worth Rs 1000 crore.

The rise of the Reddys have been phenomenal. They earn anything between Rs 12 to Rs 17 crore per day through mining. They make it very clear that they do not have a single inch of land in Karnataka and the money is being earned through the Obalapuram Mining Company in Andhra Pradesh.

The Reddy brothers have been in politics and mining business for less than a decade. People of the town recall that these brothers made their foray into mainstream politics only in the year 1999 when Sushma Swaraj took on Sonia Gandhi in the battle for Bellary. They moved around in motor cycles at that point of time and just seven years later, people hardly got to see them on the ground since they started using the chopper as their main form of transport.

Some loyalists say that they love living in style. When you have the money you need to flaunt it, they say. Today the Reddys have in their possession two Bell choppers, a fleet of Mistubuishi Pajeros, an Audi, a Rolls Royce Phantom and a dozen SUVs. However the people say the bus that he uses for his election campaign is something worth having a look at. It is a bus that costs around 4 crore which is equipped with a bedroom, television and a kitchen.

The poor: However this is just one part of Bellary. People continue to sit in their huts covered with iron ore dust watching these lords move around in style. The divide between the rich and poor is not something that anyone can calculate, people say. There are a good number of families which barely make two square meals per day. Says Siddappa, a resident of the town, “ we barely manage to make ends meet. I hear people talking about Bellary and how it is a place for rich people. I fail to understand what they mean.

Apart from living in extreme conditions, the poor of Bellary face various health problems. The dust that is kicked up by these lorries carrying iron ore has caused asthama for a lot of people. The district hospital authorities told that in the past one year they have treated nearly 2500 cases and there has been a steep increase over the years.

Mining, especially the illegal form of it has contributed to a disturbance in the social fabric, health hazards and also bad roads. The village people complain that they are unable to sleep at nights since speeding lorries keep them awake. Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde who is conducting a probe had pointed out after his first visit to Bellary early last year that people also suffer from all kind of skin ailments thanks to the mining dust. He had also pointed out that the roads are in a pathetic condition over there since lorries carry more than the prescribed limit.

It was pointed out that a lorry which have permits to carry 16 tonnes of ore are carrying 30. Another aspect is that since this is an illegal business, the lorries drive at very high speed which have only added to the accidents. There are around 4000 trucks which carry iron ore to the nearest Belekeri port everyday. This contributes to a lot of load on the roads and gives the people sleepless nights.

The social fabric is another thing that is being disturbed. The lure of easy money has kept the youth away from studies. Illegal mining lords have lured the youth with fancy bikes and easy money to take care of their business. The people allege that youth prefer to earn Rs 15000 per month and travel on fancy bikes with free cell phones instead of working for it and taking up a job which may or may not pay that much.

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