Is the Union Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay being too clever by the half when he denies any wrong doing, citing a “clean chit” by the Delhi High Court in May 2010 as proof? On Friday, Sahay addressed a Press conference where he reiterated his untenable claim that the Delhi High Court has exonerated him in the allotment of coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power.
A careful reading of the High Court order would show that his claims have many holes. Sahay still has many questions to answer.
The company allegedly linked with Sahay, SKS Ispat and Power Ltd, was jointly allotted coal mine blocks in Fatehpur, Chhattisgarh, along with the petitioner Prakash Industries Limited. Since Prakash Industries wanted the complete coal block only to themselves, they challenged the Government of India order allotting a portion of the same block to SKS Ispat and Power. Both the companies had plans to put up power projects in Chhattisgarh and wanted captive coal blocks for this project.
The final decision making authority, the Screening Committee, met many times between June and September 2007 to decide on this issue and finally, in its meeting on September 13, 2007, decided on this joint allocation to both companies
Now, in the meanwhile, SKS Ispat and Power also sought captive coal blocks for steel plants that they wanted to set up again in Chhattisgarh. Five months after receiving the coal block allotment for the power project, on February 5, 2008, Sahay, then Minister of State for Food Processing, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister, requesting his personal intervention in allotting captive coal blocks for these proposed steel plants. A day later, the PMO wrote a letter to the Coal Ministry forwarding the Minister’s request.
The bureaucracy then acted with alacrity unheard of in Government. A day after receiving the PMO’s forwarding letter, February 7, 2008, the Screening Committee met to decide the allotment of coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power. In this meeting, Sahay, presumably the Minister’s younger brother, attended the meeting in his capacity as a Director of SKS Ispat and Power. The Minutes of the Screening Committee meeting showing his presence have been accessed and displayed by several TV channels. The company reportedly received allotment of another coal block, this time for steel plants, in the same Screening Committee Meeting.
Now in the case filed at the Delhi High Court, the petitioner Prakash Industries Ltd alleged that the allotment of coal blocks for the power projects of SKS Ispat and Power was influenced by Sahay and wanted cancellation of the same allotment on this and also on other grounds. However, the petitioner produced evidence of correspondence and minutiae of meetings which related to the allotment of coal blocks for the steel plants for the same company. Since the evidence on record did not relate to the case, the learned judge had no hesitation in dismissing the case. The grounds for dismissal were purely technical and do not in any way amount to a clean chit.
The judgement states “It does not take much to realise that the above letter has nothing to do with the allocation of coal blocks for a power project. It specifically mentions allocation of coal blocks for steel plants to Respondent No. 4 (SKS Ispat). Therefore, nothing also turns on the subsequent letter dated 6th February 2008 written by the PMO to the Coal Ministry. The decision to make the allocation to PIL (Prakash Industries Ltd) and Respondent No. 4 (SKS Ispat and Power) jointly was made at the 35th meeting of the Screening Committee on 13th September 2007 long before the above letter dated 5th February 2008”
Sudhir Kant Sahay, the Minister’s brother who attended the Screening Committee meeting on February 7 , 2008 does not figure in the company’s Board of Directors which has a few “technology, social and business visionaries”
The case before the Delhi High Court and the judgement relate to a completely different matter. This is a clumsy attempt by Sahay to paint the judgment as a clean chit. He still has many questions to answer. Sahay can claim only one minor consolation. The High Court did accept that the words ‘SKS’ did not represent his name!
(The writer is a business consultant based out of Chennai with keen interest in defence, politics, management, marketing and pets! His views here are personal and do not reflect the view of the organisations/companies that he consults for. )