My own files stalled: Karnataka Industries Minister Nirani lashes out at IAS officer in Council

Murugesh Nirani's rare outburst over his private business venture stunned members in the Legislative Council.

ByAnusha Ravi Sood

Published Sep 21, 2022 | 1:31 PM Updated Sep 21, 2022 | 1:31 PM

Karnataka Industries Minister Muugesh Nirani. (Supplied)

Karnataka’s Minister for Industries Murugesh Nirani has landed his government in an awkward spot in the Legislative Council. During a session aimed at discussing people’s issues on Tuesday, 20 September, Nirani lashed out at an IAS officer over the “inordinate delay” in clearing files relating to two of his private projects.

Speaking to South First, Nirani reiterated his charge.

“I know the House wasn’t the right place to speak about my private business, but I wanted to highlight the arrogance of the officer in refusing to clear files for almost two years now,” Nirani said.

The industries minister insisted that the delay in clearing files was a problem for the business community as a whole. “If this is the situation for a minister, how do we invite global companies to invest in Karnataka?” he asked.

Nirani is an industrialist and among the richest legislators in the state. His position as an industrialist has often attracted the charge of conflict of interest with his industries portfolio.

Minister vs officer in BJP-ruled Karnataka

During question hour in the Legislative Council on Tuesday, Minister for Sugar Shankar Patil Munenkoppa was responding to BJP MLC Sunil Vallyapure’s question on ethanol production in sugar factories in the Kalyana Karnataka region.

Former Deputy Chief Minister Laxman Savadi pointed to delays in signing agreements for the sale of ethanol in the state. Building on the questions, Nirani said he was himself a victim of delays in executing agreements.

In a rare instance, the minister specifically named senior IAS officer Pankaj Kumar Pandey for the delay.

“There is a secretary named Pankaj Kumar Pandey and he refuses to clear an agreement. I had taken government’s Pandavapura and Sriram sugar factory on lease for 40 years two years ago. The lease agreement has still not been cleared.”

He went on to add: “As a minister, I feel bad about raking it up here. I don’t know if I should say this here or not. The officer has been orally instructed by the department minister as well as the chief minister, yet he doesn’t give me the papers. I have spent ₹50 crore on renovating the factory and am paying farmers weekly for the sugarcane, yet we don’t have the agreement.”

A senior minister taking on and naming an IAS officer on a question raised by a BJP MLC to the BJP government turned into ammo for Opposition parties.

Nirani’s accusations led to chaos in the Council, with the Opposition raising questions on the propriety of the minister using the House to raise personal issues as well as pointing to the irony of a minister expressing helplessness.

“Something unprecedented has happened in the House today. A minister is accusing his own officer during the session. It shows how bad things are. Let the government either suspend the officer if he is at fault, or let the minister resign from his post,” Prakash Rathod, chief whip of Congress in the Council demanded.

Nirani justifies is outburst

Even as Sugar Minister Munenkoppa defended the IAS officer, claiming “due process”, Nirani has decided not to let go of the issue.

“That officer is demanding ₹26 crore as six percent stamp duty on the 40-year lease. This is not a sale, only a lease and even the total valuation of the 70-year-old factory doesn’t come to so much. I have made a bid for ₹405 crore over 40 years to help the farmers there. Even after two years, they haven’t given me an agreement,” Nirani told South First, mincing no words.

The minister insists that stamp duty comes to only ₹4 crore at current value and he should be allowed to pay it in parts.

Problem with another project

“They are creating problems with my captive mine as well,” Nirani told South First.

“I have a cement factory near Mudhol where the Mines and Minerals Department had a 50-year mining lease for limestone. That lease ended in 2018 and the land belongs to me. For government to extend the lease, they need owner’s NOC and I don’t want to give it. I want to mine it myself and have been waiting patiently for four years. Even the minister is not responding to requests,” said Nirani, lashing out at his own Cabinet colleague.

The infighting within the Basavaraj Bommai Cabinet has increasingly been hitting the headlines ahead of the Assembly election in Karnataka. South First had first reported on the divisions within the Cabinet in August.