New Delhi: Union minister Subdoh Kant Sahai said again today that he did not influence the decision to help a company linked to his brother land a valuable coal field in 2008. However, his defense left many questions unanswered.
The opposition BJP has accused the Prime Minister of allowing his government to assign coal fields without transparency to private firms. The BJP's campaign is rooted in the state auditor's report, which made the same allegation, and has been bolstered by letters that show Mr Sahai lobbied the Prime Minister's Office for coal fields for SKS Ispat and Power Limited, for who his brother serves as a Director. The company was given both the coal blocks it had requested - the market value of the coal contained them is approximately 2700 crores.
On February 5, 2008, Mr Sahai, who was a union minister then like now, wrote to the Prime Minister seeking his "personal intervention" for an application filed by SKS, requesting two coal fields in Chhattisgarh - one in Fatehpur for a power plant, which had been cleared by the Coal Ministry in September 2007 but had yet to be formally sanctioned, and another in Vijay Central, for an SKS steel plant.
The next day, on February 6, the Prime Minister's Office forwarded the note to the Coal Ministry. On February 7, the screening committee of the Coal Ministry met to decide on the allotment of the Vijay Central coal block - Mr Sahai's brother, Sudhir, attended the meeting as Director, SKS Ispat and Power. In July, SKS Ispat and Power was allotted the Vijay Central coal block along with Prakash Industries, another company.
The BJP alleges that this coal block is what Mr Sahai helped his brother's company land.
Mr Sahai has been citing in his defence a judgement by the Delhi High Court delivered earlier this year which absolved him of attempting to influence the government for a company that his brother was associated with. However, that verdict applied to the first coal block assigned to SKS in Fatehpur, and not the second coal field in Vijay Central.
Mr Sahai also says that he lobbied for SKS because it would create jobs in his home state of Jharkhand. However, documents accessed by NDTV show both the coal fields allotted to SKS were for steel and power plants in Chhatisgarh. The minister has also failed to explain why he chose to back just one company, and not dozens of other who had applied for coal blocks for setting up plants in Jharkhand. There was conflict of interest at play since the firm on whose behalf he intervened included his brother among its Directors.
In a statement mailed to NDTV, SKS said that Sudhir K Sahai is employed as an 'executive director, honorary capacity'. They claim he receives no financial benefits from them.