Fissures between two cabinet ministers came to the fore once again Thursday when Galla Aruna Kumari and P Balaraju entered into a heated argument over checking illegal sand mining in the state.
As tempers flared, an angry Balaraju walked out of a workshop to create awareness on rock sand -- an alternative to river sand -- where the two ministers were guests. During the inauguration of the workshop, tribal welfare minister Balaraju alleged that officials of the Mines Department were registering cases against innocent tribals for carrying small quantities of sand to build their modest huts in the Agency areas of his district.
“At the same time, mining officials are not taking any action against bigwigs who are quarrying sand illegally and transporting it by the truckload,” he alleged, indirectly hitting out at his cabinet colleague Galla Aruna Kumari, who is the minister for mines. Aruna Kumari reacted sharply and snatched the microphone from Balaraju and asked him to behave himself and questioned why he was not acting against illegal sand mining in his district despite being a minister.
“You should stay at your native place instead of shuttling between Visakhapatnam and Hyderabad and staying in AC rooms. You should be answerable for whatever happen in your district,” she said.
A heated argument ensued between the two as Balaraju said he was not a competent person to look into illegal sand mining. He demanded Aruna Kumari to withdraw her remarks.
Aruna Kumari softened up and tried to play it down and said that she had only been joking. But her cabinet colleague was not to be mollified. Balaraju walked out of the workshop, stating that he was not one to sit in airconditioned rooms but a man of the masses who who liked to work in the streets for the public good.
Principal secretary for commerce and industry D Srinivasulu tried to pacify the minister, but in vain. Both Balaraju and Srinivasulu are said to have become friends after they were kidnapped by Maoists in 1994.
When Express contacted him hours after the powwow, Balaraju was still fuming. “She asks me to go and stop illegal mining. Is this the way a responsible minister should reply to her colleague?” he asked.
“Had she asked the Mines and Geology Department to discuss the issue with me, it would have been respectable. Instead, in front of the representatives of industry, she used derisive language against when I tried to bring to her notice the plight of tribals who carry sand to build their huts.” He added, “The government should be able to differentiate between those who violate the law for their livelihood and those who want to amass crores of rupees. You cannot do anything to stop those who use earth movers and smuggle sand but are quick to swoop down on poor tribals.
Balaraju said he was very hurt by the way in which Aruna Kumari addressed him. “How can she say I confine myself to AC rooms and travel by flight, and not bother about the problems of the people? Everyone knows I am one minister who do not like ostentation.”