Profile: An Indian Forest Service Officer, he is chief conservator of forests, Karnataka. Was the chief investigator in the Lokayukta team on illegal mining in three districts in Karnataka. Now a member of Justice MB Shah-led commission inquiring into illegal mining in states having iron ore mines.
- Singh led the country's most comprehensive investigation into illegal mining in Karnataka, unearthing the nexus between politicians, industrialists and the transportation mafia. His report led to the fall of the chief minister and jailing of minister and main accused Janardhan Reddy.
UV Singh was disappointed. It had been almost two years since his boss, Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, asked him to prepare a second report on illegal mining. While the first report, submitted in 2008, proved trespasses by miners, it hadn’t broken the nexus between mining and the transportation mafia, key to unraveling the illegal trade. Again in 2010, “while we had a lot of information, everything was hearsay. People were afraid to come forward,” says Singh, an Indian Forest Service officer of 1985, Karnataka cadre. That is when Hegde and Singh realised that the investigation should spread to the ports from where the illegally mined ore was being exported.
Led by the now-infamous Reddy brothers of Bellary, illegal mining in Karnataka had become rampant after rising demand from China pushed up iron ore prices. The state administration had asked the newly appointed Lokayukta Hegde, a former Supreme Court judge, to prepare a report. Hegde roped in Singh, a senior forest officer who had already made headlines with his investigation on illegal quarries in the state.
In 2010, Singh traveled to Belekeri port in Karwar, from where over Rs 2,000 crore-worth of ore was exported every year. It was a secret mission, known only to Hegde. “I told the local forest official that I had come to look at a few quarries in the region and also study animals,” recounts Singh, who obtained a doctorate in zoology and still holds the record for the highest marks on that subject in the civil services exam. Over the next month, mainly at night and often in disguise, he studied the port’s logistics—movement of trucks, documentation and the private security system deployed by miners. A month later, Singh reported his findings to Hegde, who arranged for a search warrant and a team of 16 police officials.
In the wee hours of February 20, 2010, the team raided the port just when guards were changing shifts, taking them by surprise. “It was the turning point of the whole investigation,” says 54-year-old Singh, who refuses to use a mobile handset as it would compromise his location. Singh and the rest of the team went through about 5 lakh documents and 40 lakh bank accounts to trace both the ore and money. “The first report in 2008 named nine government officials, one IAS officer and a chief minister. The second had names of two chief ministers, nine ministers and 797 government officials,” says Hegde.
The report ultimately led to the resignation of Karnataka’ s chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, and one of the primary individuals accused in the mining scam, former minister Janardhan Reddy, is still in jail. “I give Singh the credit for the report. He kept on it, despite high profile names in the scam and despite attempts on his life. He showed a lot of integrity, courage and honesty,” adds the former judge. Singh shrugs when asked if he ever got scared. “I don’t know, but since childhood, I have been like this,” says Singh, son of a marginal farmer in Rajasthan and the youngest of seven children. He's now working with Justice MB Shah, whose commission is investigating illegal mining in states that have iron ore reserves. Already, two reports on Goa’s mining industry created a furor earlier this year. A lot more is expected.
(This story appears in the 31 August, 2012 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)