Senior Gujarat minister jailed for illegal limestone quarrying

A senior minister in the Narendra Modi-led Gujarat government along with a Congress MP and two others were today sentenced to three years in jail for illegal limestone quarrying.

Chief Judicial Magistrate C V Pandya in Porbandar sentenced agriculture and water resources minister Babu Bokhiria, a former Congress MP Bharat Odedara, his son Lakshman Dula Odedara and alleged gangster Bhima Dula Odedara to three years' imprisonment and a fine of Rs5,000 each.

Bokhiria, a Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Porbandar, is said to be close to Modi.

Lakshman Dula Odedara is the chairman of the Porbandar Marketing Yard; and the alleged gangster Bhima Dula Odedara is already behind bars in a murder case.

The illegal limestone quarrying racket was unearthed in 2006-07 by the Porbandar district administration after a complaint from an aggrieved party. It is said to be worth over Rs100 crore in lost royalty payments to the government; and involves several firms, including Bokhiria's.

In 2006, the manager of Saurashtra Chemical Co, Umesh Bhavsar, registered a complaint against the four alleging that they had illegally mined limestone from land where the company holds mining rights, causing it a loss of Rs54 crore.

The administration has filed several cases; this being the first in which the accused have been convicted.

After the district administration's drive against illegal mining and its political nexus, the Narendra Modi government had transferred the then Porbandar collector H N Chhibber, who launched the drive against illegal limestone quarrying.

In 2007, Bokhiria was arrested and jailed for five months before being let on bail. Apart from the limestone racket, he is also involved in a number of criminal cases.

In the last assembly polls, Bokhiria defeated state Congress president Arjun Modhvadia from the Porbandar assembly constituency.