Apart from Jindal, among those named in the chargesheet are former Minister of State (Coal) Dasari Narayana Rao, former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and former coal secretary HC Gupta. The chargesheet centres on a transaction in 2008 where a company owned by former directors of the Naveen Jindal Group, and then by Jindal himself, gave an unsecured loan of Rs 2.25 crore to a nondescript trading company called ND Exim. This company then used the Rs 2.25 crore to buy shares of a company owned by Rao on extremely generous terms.
The controversial transaction was first investigated by the Economic Times. Its report, published in April 2013, became the basis of the CBI’s first information report filed in June 2013.
Nearly two years later, the CBI has filed the chargesheet in the case. According to news reports, five companies are named in the chargesheet, though they identify just two – Jindal Steel and Power, and Jindal Realty. It is possible that ND Exim and Sowbhagya Media are also named in the document. At present, it is not clear which is the fifth company.
At the time of the transaction, Jindal Realty was known as Duce Properties and it had unsecured loans of Rs 630 crore on its books despite a net worth of just Rs 1.17 crore.
The chargesheet reflects poorly on the Central Bureau of Investigation. After three years of investigations, Amarkonda Murgadangal coal block allocation is the solitary instance it has found of a possible quid pro quo. The agency is silent on instances where political leaders’ kin got coal blocks – like Congress’s Subodh Kant Sahay, the Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam’s S Jagathrakshakan and the Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Prem Chand Gupta. It is also mum on several other unexplained questions in the coal block allocation scam – CBI officials concede in private that as many as 50 companies sold their coal blocks, but hardly any of those were investigated.
Further, the process through which the blocks were allocated has escaped the investigation bureau’s scrutiny. A look at the list of allocated coal blocks reveals that some companies got far more coal than they needed while others fell short – and that undeserving companies trumped deserving ones. Unknown companies were paired with known companies and given blocks.
Officials in the coal and power ministries who were part of the allocation process, as well as industry executives who applied for blocks on behalf of their companies, say that politicians, notably from the Congress, were influencing allocations. This is another vital question that the CBI has failed to answer. Not surprising given that the agency had claimed in 2014 that there was no corruption and that administrative failures were to be blamed.
Further, the agency shared its investigation reports with the ministry it was investigating. Its joint director OP Galhotra, who oversaw the investigation into the coal block allocations, didn’t disclose that he was related to the biggest beneficiary from the allocations – Naveen Jindal. Under Galhotra’s watch, the bureau closed a clutch of cases saying it could find no wrongdoing.
It is this tendency of the CBI to eagerly blow with the political winds that makes one wonder if the chargesheet would have been filed if the Congress was in power. Probably not.