Is end nigh for Jindal juggernaut?
The fresh case filed <span tabindex="0" data-term="goog_840353318">on Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Investigation against Congress MP Naveen Jindal, his company Jindal Power and Steel and former Minister of State for Coal, Dasari Narayan Rao, is a welcome development in the coal block allocation scam case that might as well restore the squandered credibility of the country’s highest probing agency. Jindal has been accused of criminal misconduct, conspiracy and cheating, causing yet another blow on the face of a much-embarrassed UPA government, with the shares of Jindal steel plummeting by 18 per cent as a result, a four-year low. For several years now, Jindal industries has been arm-twisting its way to get bureaucratic leverage in many corporate sectors, particularly in the instance of forcibly acquiring lands for mining in Chhattisgarh, or procuring coal blocks, a staggering 11 allotments, during the allocations, when DN Rao was the MoS Coal. The Jindal group was the highest beneficiary of the coal block allotment, and as per the CBI chargesheet, DN Rao has been accused of accepting kickbacks from Naveen Jindal in exchange for coal licences. In fact, the Jindal group, and others named in the coal block allocation scam, which cost the former union law minister Ashwani Kumar his job for tweaking the CBI draft report, had collectively caused a humongous loss to the government exchequer to the tune of lakhs of crores, according to the CAG report, by avoiding the process of competitive bidding and instead indulging in shady, underhand deals to enable arbitrary and unjust allocations.
The CBI chargesheet also coincided with a coordinated raid at 19 premises of the Jindal group in Delhi, Hyderabad and Kolkata, and came after a showcause notice sent to Jindal Steel and Power by the Coal Ministry for delay and unsatisfactory progress in development of Utkal B1 coal block in resource-rich Chhendipada area in Angul district. Despite receiving the coalfield unscrupulously in February 2009, after the government suddenly imposed a cut-off date for acquiring the blocks, the Jindal group had been delaying the block’s development, and had instead been hoarding the field to obtain future leverage in times of financial volatility. Although the Jindal group has tainted its hands in every possible way to acquire the coal blocks, it had been remarkably lackadaisical in meeting development targets or respect stipulated milestones in order to make economically and ecologically sustainable progress in the coalfields. Furthermore, as stated in the Bureau’s FIR, the corporates represented by the likes of Jindal group, are culpable of overstating their net worth, failing to disclose prior coal allocations and hoarding coal fields, thereby keeping them unproductive and causing massive revenue losses by perpetuating these dubious deals. That the CBI has made a concerted effort to crack down on the Jindal juggernaut is a commendable effort on the part of the probing body, which had been recently castigated by the Supreme Court of India for acting like a ‘caged parrot’ and a ‘puppet of the political masters.’ Nevertheless, the government’s efforts, including earlier cancellation of 22 coal blocks for unproductivity, might be a classic case of doing too little too late.