Coal scandal: CBI case against Congress MP and minister brother

New Delhi: A Congress MP, Vijay Darda, and his brother, Rajendra, who is a minister in the Maharashtra government have been named in cases registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today against five companies and their directors for deliberately misreporting financial and technical abilities in order to corner coal fields. Alleged irregularities in how coal blocks were assigned to private and state-run firms have provoked a massive political crisis, and emboldened the opposition BJP to demand the Prime Minister’s resignation, and paralysing Parliament through noisy disruptions every day.

Mr Darda is closely linked to two of five private firms that were raided today for the coal blocks they landed in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. He has denied that he used his position to influence the allocation process followed by the government. “My conscience is clear,” he told NDTV hours before the CBI began its raids. But the cases against his brother and him are likely to unnerve his party, which has been trying to fend off accusations of a coal policy rooted in crony capitalism and graft.

The case against Mr Darda, his son and his brother is connected to a firm named JLD Yavatmal; they were directors when the company was given coal fields. Mr Darda, who is also the Editor-in-Chief of Lokmat, Maharashtra’s best-selling vernacular daily, says that his association with the company, named after his father, ended in 2009.

The four other firms against who cases were filed today are Jas Infrastructure, in which Mr Darda and his son hold 7% stake, AMR Iron and Steel, Vinni Iron and Steel and Navbharat Power.

Mr Darda set up Jas Infrastructure and JLD Yavatmal with influential businessman Manoj Jayaswal. The politician says that in 2009, he ended his association with the latter because it cancelled plans for a power plant in Yavatmal, the district that he belongs to.

Last night, Mr Darda told NDTV, “I was not in the driver’s seat…my son was leading the show.” He added that if a firm associated with his son was allocated coal fields, it was because the company “met the parameters.”

Sources say it’s unlikely that Mr Jayaswal’s different companies were collectively given 20 Manoj_Jayaswal_with_Sriprakash_295.jpgcoal 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. While the government has rejected that finding, the Opposition has seized it to insist that the Prime Minister must step down.

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