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Fresh CBI inquiry against Jindal Steel

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has registered a preliminary investigation (PE) into a Jharkhand iron ore mine owned by Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL), promoted by industrialist Naveen Jindal, a week after filing a case against the company for alleged cheating related to a Chhattisgarh coal mine.

CBI has also named unknown officials of the union environment ministry in the PE. “CBI has registered a PE against unknown officials of JSPL and unknown officials of Ministry of Environment and Forest for irregularities in granting approval/clearance for diversion of forest land for mining purpose in Saranda Forest of Jharkhand (between 2007-13),” said a CBI official.

“We have only come to know of the preliminary enquiry through media reports. JSPL reiterates that we have always co-operated with the investigative agencies and will respond when we receive these queries from the investigative authorities,” said a JSPL spokesperson This case relates to JSPL’s Jeraldaburu iron ore block in the Saranda forests of Jharkhand.

The Forest Advisory Committee of the union environment ministry recommended the mine for environment clearance in January 2013. The green nod was mired in controversy during the United Progressive Alliance rule when former environment minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh opposing forest clearance to the project, and taking on Jayanti Natarajan, who was environment minister.

“In this context, I was most depressed to learn today that the Forest Advisory Committee of the MoE&F has just given its permission for the diversion of 512.43 hectares of forest land in Saranda for iron ore mining by Jindal Steel and Power,” Ramesh had said in a letter dated February 6, 2013 when he was the union rural development minister, leading to a war of words between Natarajan and Ramesh. In a note, Natarajan said that Ramesh himself gave environment clearance to public sector utility (PSU) Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and other private agencies in Saranda forests and that the Cabinet Committee of Investment had “declined to accept the merits of Ramesh’s contentions (raised in the letter).”

“My predecessor Jairam Ramesh had as then Minister of State (I/C) for Environment and Forests accorded forest clearance on 23/02/2011 for diversion of 117.0059 ha of forest land in the very same Saranda Forest Division in favour of another Private user agency …Had the MoEF always rejected private user agencies, the issues to be addressed might have been different,” a note dated May 1, 2013 said.

Noting that there is a “conflict of interest between conservation of natural resources and need for economic activity”, the FAC had recommended diversion of over 530 hectares of forest land in its meeting held on January 21-22, 2013. This proposal was discussed two years prior to this as well and the FAC in December 2011 had deferred any decision without a wildlife management plan for Saranda forest.

Last week, the CBI had lodged its second First Information Report (FIR) against JSPL and unknown public servants for illegal mining beyond the approved area and excess coal mining, along with other charges in the Gare Palma IV/1 block in Chhattisgarh, allocated to JSPL in June 1996 for production of sponge iron. JSPL had said that “all of its actions are in keeping with the legal framework of the country and that it complies with the law in letter and in spirit.” This was based on a preliminary investigation (PE) registered by the CBI in September last year, looking into the allocations of coal blocks during 1993-2005.

The CBI registered the first case against JSPL in the coal scam in June last year. It carried out raids and filed a case against JSPL and its Chairman, Jindal, on alleged charges of cheating, criminal conspiracy and misconduct in securing the Amarkonda Murgadangal block in Jharkhand.

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