Thursday, 14 May 2015 – 5:00am IST Updated: Thursday, 14 May 2015 – 9:17am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna | From the print edition
  • Jyotika Sood

    Copy of the affidavit, accessed by dna, reveals that those who come under scrutiny now include former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Veerappa Moily, TMC leaders Mamata Banerjee and Mithun Chakraborty, steel ministry’s joint secretary S Abbasi and several other politicians and bureaucrats.
    • Uday Mohite dna

    More skeletons are tumbling out of Essar’s internal emails, as Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL – an NGO that conducts litigation on matters of public interest) on Wednesday filed an additional affidavit in Supreme Court, putting in dock new names disclosing high-level political-bureaucratic-corporate nexus in India.

    Copy of the affidavit, accessed by dna, reveals that those who come under scrutiny now include former Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, former Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Veerappa Moily, TMC leaders Mamata Banerjee and Mithun Chakraborty, steel ministry’s joint secretary S Abbasi and several other politicians and bureaucrats.

    The Essar’s internal emails, dated between 2012 and 2013, further corroborate that Essar group had easy access to former UPA ministers and government’s internal documents. In return, it was regularly heeding to the requests of the politicians and bureaucrats in the form of job appointments, travel arrangements, accommodation and car services.

    One of the emails dated May 1, 2012 says, “I met FM again and requested him to give an early date for GoM (Group of Ministers) on Mahan… he has given me a resume of Mr Santosh Reddy to absorb him suitably in the group. He has shown his annoyance that Mr Reddy has not been recruited so far.” The very next day, offer letter to Santosh Reddy is approved with an income of Rs 12 lakh per annum asking him to join on May 7, 2012.Pranab Mukherjee was India’s finance minister from January 24, 2009 to June 26, 2012.

    When a response was requested from Pranab Mukherjee, press secretary to the President Venu Rajamony said, “No comments”.

    According to the affidavit, an SMS forwarded by Essar’s Prashant Ruia to Sunil Bajaj shows the effort Essar was making to pursue its case with the GoM. It reads: “I have requested the PS to Finance Minister to fix the date for GoM at the earliest. He has agreed for that.”

    In another email, Essar group had facilitated to and fro travel for six TMC leaders from Kolkata to New Delhi. This email dated July 24, 2012 says, “Am mentioning under the names of the six passengers who will travel tonight from Kolkatta to Delhi.” These are – Mamata Banerjee (now West Bengal Chief Minister), Mithun Chakraborty (now member of parliament in Rajya Sabha), Kunal Ghosh (suspended from TMC for indefinite period and Member of Parliament in Rajya Sabha), Debasish Chakraborty (former TMC chairperson), Bishwa Ranjan Mazumdar and Rajat Roy Chowdhury.

    The TMC leaders travelled to Delhi on July 24 and returned on July 25 via a Gulfstream V aircraft which can accommodate maximum of 18 persons. Their dinner on board was arranged from the Taj in Kolkata. Besides, the travellers suggested to add fish fry, chicken tikka and veg/non-veg sandwiches in the menu, says the mail.

    In response to dna queries, media advisor to West Bengal government, Pradip Kumar Chakraborty, said the travel was for the swearing-in ceremony of Pranab Mukherjee as President on July 25, 2012. Along with the response, he sent a Bengali newspaper cutting dated July 23, 2012, with an English translation quoting Pranab Mukherjee stating, “If you have any difficulty in coming to Delhi for the ceremony, a special plane will be sent to fetch you from Kolkata and the plane will also take you back after the event.” Chakraborty added that those travelling on plane also included some accredited journalists.

    That’s not all. Essar group had also arranged for the air ticket of Mithun Chakraborty from Delhi to Mumbai by 9W 362 on July 25 at 5.40 pm in business class. A suite room at Hotel Hyatt Regency along with a good luxury car was also booked and kept at his disposal on bill to company. Emails to Mithun Chakraborty remained unanswered.

    Apart from the Finance ministry, the Essar goup had a strong influence over the Petroleum and Natural gas ministry as it appears from the emails. The group officials had regular meetings with then Petroleum and Natural Gas minister Veerappa Moily and was also influencing the public policies like natural gas pricing.

    On March 28, 2013, Naresh Nayyar of Essar Oil writes to Prashant Ruia that proposal of gas pricing recommended by Rangarajan Committee has been sent for the approval of the minister. To this, Mr Ruia responded that he should meet Mr Moily and ask him to intervene. On May 17, 2013, he asks Essar’s Iftikar Nasir to meet minister and petroleum secretary and “to ensure that letter MoPNG releases is to our satisfaction.”

    On an issue concerning import duty on petroleum products, Naresh Nayyar of Essar Oil writes to Prashant Ruia on February 22, 2013 stating that Essar should use its influence to stop the levy.

    Then in another email, it states “Dr Veerappa Moily ji has given me a letter from a person from his constituency for cancellation of lease deed agreement from Essar Petrol Pump. The person concerned is very influential keeping the vote politics in view; therefore he insisted that work should be done immediately.”

    Besides, the affidavit states that in a quid pro quo Moily’s private secretary had also asked the Essar officials to recruit his own nephew in the group.

    Emails, phone calls and messages to Moily remained unanswered till filing of this report.

    The affidavit also sought enquiry alleging leaking of government documents. It states that CBI registered FIR into the leaking of sensitive government documents to corporates and arrested several persons. It says Essar was reportedly one of the beneficiary companies of the leaking of confidential government documents. A series of emails of Essar group also substantiate that Essar had easy access to government documents. These include records of discussions the principal secretary had with PM, communication Ministry of Petroleum had with Ministry of Coal, etc.

    In a written response to dna, Essar spokesperson said, “We understand that today one Ms Kamini Jaiswal has filed an additional affidavit in the Public Interest Litigation pending in the Hon’ble Supreme Court raising directly and substantially the same questions as raised by you in your email for our response. The questions are thus sub-judice and we therefore refrain from giving our response to them. Nothing stated by us herein should, however, be construed as an admission of all or any of your allegations made in your e-mail. We reiterate and say that Essar is a responsible corporate and we adhere to the highest standards of governance and ethics.”

    More under scanner

    CPIL’s affidavit prima facie reveals that Syedain Abbasi, joint secretary in the ministry of steel and one of the directors of NMDC, has been using his official position to “strongly pushed” Essar’s business interests within the government. Apart from it, the emails show that Abassi was sharing all internal deliberations in the Steel ministry with the Essar group and also advising them how to pursue their projects. Besides, he also requested for accommodation in Essar’s guest house in Delhi for 7 days and visited their Hazira facility.

    In response to dna, Abbasi said “As an official of the Steel Ministry, it is my duty to interact with various representatives to get their response on various problems and how best to resolve them. This does not constitute a violation of the Official Secrets Act by any stretch of the imagination. I, however, has no control over someone representing a conversation with me in internal emails of a company.” He denied availing any accommodation facilities by Essar but added that he did visit to Hazira but with the approval of government and at government expense.

    Submitting this affidavit on Wednesday, CPIL has sought a court-monitored investigation by an SIT or the CBI into the high-level political-bureaucratic-corporate nexus wherein corporates use their money power to change public policies, plant questions in Parliament, get access to internal government documents/cabinet papers, grant favours to politicians and bureaucrats for receiving benefits in return, and plant stories in news media.

    Affidavit submits Ashish Khetan’s story, ‘planted’ by Essar
    Once again targeting the media, the CPIL in its affidavit submitted a story published in a national weekly stating that it was apparently a story planted by Essar. The story annexed is ‘The madness in the CBI’s method’, published in Tehelka magazine. The story is written by journalist Ashish Khetan, who is now with Aam Aadmi Party. The affidavit states that it is to be noted that the same magazine held a festival in Goa in November 2011 where Essar was one of the biggest sponsor.