Yediyurappa, Shivakumar on same side in land case in Supreme Court

Karnataka chief minister BS Yediyurappa of the Bharatiya Janata Party and his rival DK Shivakumar of the Congress may have just come off a bruising battle in the state which ended with the fall of the Congress-JD(S) coalition government and the return to power of the former, but the duo, arguably Karnataka’s most powerful politicians, were on the same side in the Supreme Court on Friday and opposed a petition to reopen a case of alleged landgrab and corruption.

The two leaders were represented by their lawyers in the court, who objected to an application filed before a bench led by Justice Arun Mishra by an NGO, Samaj Parivartana Samudaya, which asked the court to recall its February 21 order that allowed the case to be withdrawn. “Propriety demands it should not have been withdrawn,” Justice Mishra said, while advocates Mukul Rohatgi (for Yediyurappa) and AM Singhvi (for DK Shivkumar) questioned the NGO’s locus standi.

“The complainant withdrew the appeal almost a year ago. This NGO is just an intervenor and has no concern here,” Rohatgi said. Singhvi expressed a similar concern. At this the bench, also comprising Justice MR Shah, said: “Any person can come in a matter of corruption.”

Justice Mishra, however, dismissed concerns raised by the NGO’s counsel Prashant Bhushan, who said that Yediyurappa was likely to be the next chief minister. “We are not influenced by any names or by anybody,” the judge said. In a lighter vein, Rohatgi described his client as the “budding” chief minister.

Bhushan said the court allowed withdrawal of the case in his absence. The original complainant in the case, Kabbale Gowda, was “compromised” and it was for this reason the NGO intervened, Bhushan said. “How can it be withdrawn behind his (the intervenor’s) back?” Justice Mishra said, adding that the State Lokayukta should have approached the court.

The case was before the Karnataka Lokayukta (anticorruption ombudsman) before it was quashed by the Karnataka high court. Gowda filed an appeal before the SC. Notice in the matter was issued in January 2018. However, on February 21, his lawyer mentioned the matter and sought to withdraw the appeal, which the court allowed. The court, however, did not pass any formal orders and said it would further look into the facts of the case.

The case pertains to a piece of land measuring over five acres. The then purchaser of the land decided in 1962 to convert the land from agricultural use to industrial. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) acquired the land in 1986. Despite the acquisition, Shivakumar, who was in 2003 the Urban Development Minister, allegedly purchased the land from the original owner for ₹1.62 crore.

As per the complaint, the land registration was done even though the revenue documents continued to reflect BDA’s name as the land-owning agency. In May 2010, when Yediyurappa took over as the chief minister of the State, he de-notified the land from acquisition proceedings. This was done unilaterally, without asking the file to be placed before the de-notification committee, the complaint claims. Shivakumar subsequently entered into joint agreements with other companies to develop the land in 2004 and 2011.