The mines department in its affidavit to AP HC in 2018 said that 31 lakh metric tonnes of limestone worth Rs 130 crore had been excavated from Piduguralla and Dachepally. But the CBI in its probe said the scam was at least twice what has been estimated. It also said the scam was similar to the Obulapuram iron ore mining involving mining baron Gali Janardhan Reddy.
Investigations by TOI, analysis of documents and satellite imagery reveal illegal mining has taken shape of organised looting since 2014 in several mandals of Palnadu. Between 2014 and 2019, patta lands, leased quarries and revenue lands in Piduguralla and Dachepalli were allegedly taken over by followers of then Gurazala TDP MLA Yarapathaneni Srinivas Rao, who was named in CBI FIR, and illegal mining was done.
In November 2020, CBI sleuths conducted searches on Srinivas Rao and his followers. After doing a volumetric analysis of satellite imagery, the CBI said: “Lakhs of tonnes of limestone worth several crores of rupees have been plundered.”
In the affidavit filed (on August 18, 2018) in court, the mines and geology secretary said: “A total of 31 lakh tonnes of limestone and mosaic chips have been mined and an amount of Rs 130 crore, including seigniorage fee, sale value and penalty, has to be paid by the accused who did illegal mining. FIRs have been filed against the accused in various police stations.”
Whistleblower K Guravachary, who was the first person to file a PIL in the high court in 2014, alleged: “The satellite imagery has shown that more than 70 lakh tonnes of limestone has been excavated.”
Former YSRC MLC TGV Krishna Reddy, who is also a complainant, charged Srinivas Rao and his followers with threatening leaseholders, mining the limestone blocks illegally and supplying mosaic chips to mills. “Despite HC orders to quantify the illegal mining and recover money from the illegal mining accused, no action has been taken. I had filed another writ petition in 2016 providing additional evidence of satellite imagery using 3D technology. In 2018, the HC issued orders again, asking why no action was taken,” he told TOI.
TN Sharma, who was named as a co-accused by the CBI, alleged: “My patta lands in Kesanapalli were forcibly taken away by Srinivas Rao to do illegal mining. Lands of several other owners were also taken away. Despite my complaints, no action was taken and instead they named me as an accused in the case,” he bemoaned.
However, Srinivas Rao refuted the allegations and said illegal mining has been going on in the area for the last 30-35 years. “I have been an MLA since 1994 and allegations came up only in 2014. Ever since I started questioning CM YS Jagan Mohan Reddy family-owned Saraswati Cements digging up land in Macherla, they targeted me by filing PILs in the HC,” he told TOI.
He said then TDP government conducted a CID enquiry but nothing came out of it. He alleged Sharma himself was doing illegal mining for 20 years and the figure quoted by the mines official in the affidavit pertains to the last two decades. “The present YSRC government handed over the case to CBI. I will come out clean,” he claimed.