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Delhi HC wants govt to nail joint secy, port officials

After the Central government rejected the demands of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of action against Rakesh Srivastava, a joint secretary of the shipping ministry, and officials of the Kandla Port Trust in alleged irregularities in the port, the Delhi high court has asked the government to decide on the findings of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) in the case.

The CVC was asked to give a status report into the matter by the high court. A few days back the CVC submitted its report to the high court. In the report, the watchdog has recommended action against Srivastava and Kandla officials.

The high court is hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation through its counsels Prashant Bhushan and Pranav Sachdeva. On the orders of the high court, the CBI had registered cases against Srivastava and the Kandla officials for irregularities in grant of lease of 16,112 acres of Kandla Port Trust salt land on nomination basis and the subsequent renewal of the leases and not fixing lease rent based on market value of the land and thus, extending favour to various parties

'The high court has asked the ministry to decide on the recommendations of the CVC,' said Sachdeva to
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The allegation against Srivastava is that he recommended a renewal of lease deeds without conducting the auction and getting market value of land.

Earlier, the ministry had informed the court that it had stopped Srivastava from handling land lease-related matters of the Kandla Port Trust in the wake of the scam. The CBI had also sent a letter in January to the cabinet secretary K M Chandrashekhar, recommending that Srivastava be shifted to some a department or post not linked with the matter in question. It had also sent a note to the shipping ministry for taking 'necessary corrective action' against Srivastava.

The Ministry of Shipping did not take any further action on the matter. In another CBI report this year, in respect of allegation that related to non-adherence to the ministry's 2004 gtuidelines and non-issuance of directions to the Kandla Port Trust to fix lease rent by fixing market value, the CBI recommended initiation of major penalty proceedings against five officials, including the then chairman of the trust. The ministry, however, felt that there is no case for disciplinary action against these officers. The CVC pointed it out to the high court.

There are allegations that leases to exporters and salt manufacturing firms were renewed at throwaway prices and not auctioned, as per rules, causing huge losses to the government. The petition has alleged that the initial leases were not renewable, yet they were renewed on two occasions, some of them retrospectively, and without any competitive bidding. The leases were renewed without determining the market rate so as to compute lease rentals. They were renewed despite the fact that original lease holders had transferred leases without the consent of the Central government.
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