Unlocking the urea scam
The culture of scams being committed by top political leaders and their family members alongside delayed justice amounting to negating the very purpose of seeking a court's intervention is not new in India. But, with the Rs 133-crore Urea Scam of 1995, it is perhaps for the first time that a close relative of a former Prime Minister has been convicted by the court in a scam that had unfolded right under the nose of law enforcement agencies. A special CBI court on July 12 has convicted nine persons in the urea scam cases including the nephew of former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and the son of former fertiliser minister Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav. But, even though he was believed to be the kingpin behind the scam, the court and the investigating agencies failed to prosecute PV Prabhakar Rao, the youngest son of Narasimha Rao. However, one of Rao's nephews has been convicted and a fine of Rs five crore has been imposed on him. This delayed justice often results in the guilty going out of bounds, making their conviction an onerous task. After 23 years of hearing, the court finally sentenced two Turkish nationals to six years of imprisonment with a Rs 100 crore fine. Among others, the court sentenced Sanjeeva Rao, a relative of PV Narasimha Rao, to three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs five crore. Similarly, Prakash Chandra Yadav, son of Former Union Minister Ramlakhan Singh Yadav, has been sentenced to three years besides a penalty of Rs one crore. The urea scam case dates back to 1995 when National Fertilisers Limited (NFL) floated a global tender for the procurement of 2,00,000 metric tonnes of urea. NFL, under CK Ramakrishnan as the CMD, paid the entire amount of Rs 133 crore in March 1996 to Karsan, in advance, without any bank guarantee. Ramakrishnan was appointed NFL's CMD by the Rao government allegedly bypassing established procedures. The company took the money but did not deliver the goods. The matter was referred to the CBI in May 1996, but the investigating agency did not question PV Prabhakar Rao, though he was identified as the hidden hand managing the deal. Despite several leads and testimonies, the CBI maintained that there was no evidence against Prabhakar. ED officials, however, said that vital evidence might have been lost due to the delay in arresting him. However, Prabhakar was arrested by the ED in December 1998 in a surprise raid at his Mehboobnagar hideout near Hyderabad. For almost three years since 1995, till his arrest in 1998, the ED had been chasing Prabhakar for his alleged involvement in the scam. But despite a non-bailable warrant being issued against him, Prabhakar evaded arrest. As Prabhakar was provided Special Protection Group (SPG) cover, investigating agencies struggled to trace him. The SPG argued that disclosing his whereabouts would be a violation of the Blue Book as its duty was to protect the VVIP. It was only when an incensed court directed the CBI to file a status report that the ED traced Prabhakar. He was sent to 14-days judicial custody by the magistrate. Finally, the CBI charge-sheeted nine persons including CK Ramakrishnan, CMD of NFL, DS Kanwar, NFL's executive director, M Sambashiva Rao, Indian agent of the Turkish company Karsan. Others who figured in the charge sheet included B Sanjeeva Rao, nephew of Narasimha Rao, Prakash Yadav, son of former fertilisers minister Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav, businessman Mallesham Gaud and three Karsan officials. Curiously, the CBI did not find anything against Prabhakar. It is still a mystery as to how the RBI and SBI waived stiff conditions attached to such deals. In fact, the Swiss bank, which received an invoice for making a payment to Karsan, raised certain objections and sent it back. But there was no response either from the NFL or RBI and SBI. The investigating agencies were faced with the arduous task of bringing the money back from Switzerland. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, during his tenure, raised the subject of remitting the frozen USD seven million back to India with the visiting Swiss President and received a positive reply. But, a major portion of the Rs 133 crore was untraceable as it was transferred to Turkey by Karsan executives. The conviction of those involved in the urea scam has brought the curtains down on one of the most infamous scams of our country. But, that it took 23 years for the court to wrap up the case is a grim reminder of how the Indian justice delivery system is out of sync with the advancements in other fields. The delayed justice invariably underlines the fact that those involved in the scam went scot-free for a considerably long period of time.