Congress MP Naveen Jindal is making headlines now but the moves that caused them were made six years ago. Early in 2007, then minister of state for coal Dasari Narayan Rao over-ruled then power minister Sushilkumar Shinde on the allocation of four coal blocks to Jindal Power & Steel. Shinde’s categorical instructions to Rao that four coal blocks in Jharkhand be equally shared between Bhushan Energy and Jindal Power & Steel were overruled in order to allocate all to Jindal. The four blocks-Jitpur, Amarkonda Murgadangal, Amarkonda Murgadangal and Rohne (which went to JSW Steel) were awarded on February 20, 2007, January 17, 2008 (two blocks) and June 5, 2008. Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) director Ranjit Sinha on Wednesday confirmed to Mail Today that Rao had rejected Shinde’s demand outright and awarded all four Jharkhand blocks to Jindal. “We have the correspondence exchanged between them which is now part of the FIR. Further, the Jindals made false representations on assets, land, etc to secure these coal blocks. They certainly did not meet the qualification criteria set by the power ministry and yet managed to get these blocks allocated to them,” Sinha said.
Congress MP Naveen Jindal
The CBI probe into the allocation of coal blocks also shows that the Jharkhand government pushed Lanco Infra out to favour Naveen Jindal’s companies in 2007, just as Dasari Narayan Rao rejected Bhushan Energy to give Amarkonda to Jindal. A quid pro quo has been apparently established, with Jindal having given a Rs2.25-crore unsecured loan to Saubhagya Media Ltd, Dasari Narayan Rao’s company, in 2008. In Jharkhand alone, the Jindals benefited to the tune of 663.62 million metric tonnes (MMT) of coal reserves. (A metric ton has 1,000 kilograms. India’s total coal production in 2012-13 was about 550 MMT, and its coal reserves are estimated at 286 billion tonnes, the fifth highest in the world.)
Of the four coal blocks three are operational, while the bank guarantee has been invoked by the coal ministry on November 21, 2012 in the Jitpur block. During Rao’s tenure as coal minister from 2004 to 2006 first and 2006 to 2008 later, the Jindals were allocated coal blocks that have reserves of 1044.86 MMT. This was followed by a gang buster allocation of virtually the biggest coal block in the country-Ramchandi Promotion Block in Odisha-on February 27, 2009-which was worth 1,500 MMT. The coal minister at the time was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Between 2004 and 2009, the Jindals have been allocated coal blocks whose reserves total 2,660 MMT. In 2004-05, Jindal Steel’s net sales were Rs2,271 crore. They have since grown exponentially to Rs 15,113 crore.
Jindal Steel Power Limited head of external affairs Manu Kapoor said, “JSPL is a law abiding company and is governed by a strong ethical code of conduct. This is an ongoing CBI investigation into coal block allocation. At this stage of the investigation, JSPL is committed to fully cooperate with the CBI.”
The CBI investigation into the Jindal- Rao nexus is not limited to the Rs 2.25 crore transaction it has traced. The agency has established the money trail from companies owned by Naveen Jindal to Saubhagya Media Limited.
Sources said this is clear evidence of a bribe being paid to the then minister in return for ensuring coal block allocations. Rao’s tenure coincided with the period when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held additional charge of coal ministry between 2006 and 2009. During his tenure the Jindals were allocated five coal blocks. “It is suspected that Rao influenced some members of the screening committee when he was the minister of state. Roles of these officials are also being investigated,” said a CBI officer.
While applying for the coal blocks in January 2007, the two companies that have been booked by CBI, Jindal Steel and Power Limited with Naveen Jindal as its Director and Gagan Sponge Iron Private Limited where the Jindal group has a share, did not disclose the previous allocations. The companies had already been allocated six coal blocks but they claimed to have only three.