Congress MP Vijay Darda
The CBI has filed First Information Reports or FIRs against five private firms who were allocated coal blocks in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Two firms whose offices were raided are linked to Congress MP Vijay Darda, which makes it harder for his party to refute charges of a coal policy riddled with crony capitalism. Sources say Mr Dardam who has been named in the FIR, will be questioned soon. The FIR refers to charges of cheating and conspiracy against JLD Yavatmal, Jas Infrastructure, AMR Iron and Steel, Vinni Iron and Steel and Navbharat Power. The CBI is investigating whether companies misreported their financial or technical qualifications to be granted valuable coal fields in possible collusion with government officials.
Mr Darda is associated with two of these companies which he set up with influential businessman Manoj Jayaswal - Jas Infrastructure where he has a 7% stake along with his son, and JLD Yavatmal, a company named after his father. Mr Darda says that in 2009, he ended his association with this firm because it dropped its plans to set up a power plant in Yavatmal, the district that he belongs to.
He has denied that he used his position as an MP to help companies that he was associated with land coal fields. But the raids today suggest that the CBI believes these firms were ineligible for coal permits.
Last night, Mr Darda told NDTV, "I was not in the driver's seat...my son was leading the show." He added, "Where is the nexus? Everyone has the right to do business. My conscience is absolutely clear. I am very happy," he said.
The CBI's raids are intended at uncovering irregularities in the allocation process. Sources say it's unlikely that Mr Jayaswal's different companies were collectively given 20 coal blocks without the influence of his high-level connections.
Mr Jayaswal's political clout is on display in photographs from his daughter's wedding which he celebrated in Delhi and Mumbai in 2009. Seen with the entrepreneur are current Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, as well as senior BJP leaders like LK Advani and Nitin Gadkari, who is from Nagpur, like Mr Jayaswal.
The Congress has already been heavily embarrassed by the revelation that union minister Subodh Kant Sahai in 2008 wrote to the Prime Minister's Office, lobbying for coal blocks for a company that has his brother as a Director.
Another company raided today - Vinni Iron and Steel - is being investigated for links to former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, who spent two years in prison on money-laundering charges. Vaibhav Tulsyan, who once owned the firm and was raided today, claimed he had sold the company to a close aide of Mr Koda before the coal blocks were allocated. "Because of a Naxal problem, we were not able to run the company, so when Vijay Joshi, who was a close aide of former chief minister Madhu Koda, approached us with a good offer, we sold the company to him," he said to the Press Trust of India.
The CBI's inquiry is rooted in a complaint filed by BJP leader Prakash Javadekar four months ago with the government's anti-graft department or Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). Then, last month, the government auditor or CAG said that 142 coal fields allocated between 2004 and 2009 had allowed private firms to get windfall benefits of upto 1.86 lakh crores because the coal mines were sold at highly undervalued rates, instead of being auctioned. That has led to a huge political crisis with the opposition BJP demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and disrupting Parliament every day of this session, ensuring that virtually no business has been transacted. Uproar over the issue forced adjournments in both Houses of Parliament today as well.
The CBI's raids are unlikely to make any headway into breaking the Parliament deadlock, since the BJP is adamant on the cancellation of allocation of all 142 coal blocks mentioned in the auditor's report, which the government has declined. Finance Minister P Chidambaram said yesterday, "The demand for cancellation of all 142 coal blocks allocated after 2004 is not founded on sound logic...It (cancellation) cannot be done through diktat or arbitrary orders. There is a procedure for it and that procedure is underway." At the same time, a government review committee has shortlisted 58 companies whose coal licences are likely to be revoked for underperformance. The firms have been asked to explain their defence starting Friday. By September 15, the government will share if their permits will be cancelled. Wary of this being seen as an admission of its faulty coal policy, the government has said that these licences have been under review since April, months before the auditor or CAG presented its politically incendiary report.
(With inputs from Agencies)