The leaked internal correspondence from Essar that is now the basis of a Supreme Court public interest litigation has focussed media attention on the favours that politicians and journalists received from the company. But the documents also make reference to the company planting questions in Parliament to keep pressure on the public sector National Mineral Development Corporation, its main supplier of iron ore.

Essar has not denied the content of the emails and documents quoted in the PIL and in reports based on it in the Indian Express. It has only filed a police complaint for theft.

The PIL quotes an email sent by Essar’s Senior Vice-President Rajamani Krishnamurti on August 23, 2012, to the company’s owners and senior management in which he refers to the questions planted in Parliament.  “An early action will keep the pressure on NMDC, as the questions planted in Parliament will be heard on 27th August 2012,” it says.

Three queries are raised

It also reproduces a reference to the same subject in a “Monthly Information System” report, dated August 27, 2012, also authored by Krishnamurti, which in the section pertaining to the company’s steel interests says: “Planted Parliamentary Questions regarding arbitrary pricing mechanism of NMDC which are expected to be answered on the floor of House on 27th August and 3rd September, 2012, respectively.”

Both houses of Parliament have a calendar that specifies the dates during a session on which each ministry answers questions to it, tabled by Members of Parliament. The Lok Sabha records for August 27 and September 3 in 2012 show that three questions pertaining to the functioning of NMDC were asked and answered. On August 27, the ministry responded to a question tabled by Kalikesh Narayan Singh, BJD MP for Bolangir and the Congress’s Magunta Sreenivasulu Reddy on whether the NMDC planned to expand its mining operations and if it had entered into an MoU with the public-sector steel manufacturer RINL.  On September 3, the Trinamool Congress MP Ambica Banerjee’s question pertaining to allegations that NMDC was involved in monopolistic practices and on its iron ore pricing received a written response.

Prices are a concern

NMDC’s iron ore prices had clearly been a matter of concern for Esaar and other steel manufacturers during this period. Essar, according to news reports, had written to the corporation on the subject.

While the dates mentioned in the leaked Essar documents and correspondence clearly refer to the Lok Sabha calendar for Ministry of Steel, there were also questions pertaining to NMDC’s functioning, monopolistic practices and iron ore pricing in the Rajya Sabha during the same period. On August 30, 2012, the steel minister gave a written response a question from Congress MP Janardhan Waghmare on the NMDC’s pricing mechanism and how this impacted domestic steel producers.

There is nothing in the leaked documents and correspondence to indicate that payments in cash or kind were made to MPs who asked the questions. However, the language employed by the senior Essar executive “planting questions” suggests that the issues they raised questions about were not of direct interest to the MPs. None of the MPs has an Essar steel factory in his constituency and certainly no constituents whose lives would be impacted by the fortunes of Essar.