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CBI files FIR, searches Jayanthi Natarajan’s premises

Former Union Minister Jayanthi Natarajan. File

Former Union Minister Jayanthi Natarajan. File   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The case pertains to clearance given for diversion of forest land at Saranda Forest in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum District to a mining company in violation of the Forest (Conservation) Act in 2012.

The Central Bureau of Investigation on September 9 conducted searches at the Chennai premises of former Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan in connection with alleged irregularities in the approval to a proposal for leasing of 56 hectare forest land to a private firm for mining of iron and manganese ores in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum district.

The agency has registered a case against Ms. Natarajan and others under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act. 

The case is based on the findings of a preliminary enquiry into the allegations that during 2005, unknown officials of the Jharkhand government had recommended the proposal by Electrosteel Casting Limited for leasing of 192.5 hectare land at Saranda Forest in Singhbhum.

The proposal, then forwarded to the Environment Ministry, was approved in February 2012, allegedly in violation of the existing mining laws, environment laws and the directions of the Supreme Court, alleges the FIR. It also names Umang Kejriwal, the then managing director of Odisha-based Electrosteel Casting and the company itself, for involvement in the alleged conspiracy.

Read: CBI FIR against Jayanthi Natarajan and others

The FIR notes that a memorandum of understanding was signed by the company and the then Jharkhand government in May 2004 for setting up of a plant for production of one million ton per annum of steel in the State. The agreement was modified in Jaunary 2007, changing the production capacity to three million ton per annum.

On this proposal, the State government requested the Union Ministry of Mines for a prior approval under the Mines and Minerals (Developmental & Regulation) Act, for grant of lease of 192.5 hectare land in Electrosteel Casting’s favour. The Ministry responded with the condition for ensuring compliance with environmental laws.

In April 2008, the company again proposed diversion of 55.79 hectare of the land. It was rejected by the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) as the proposed mining area was part of the core zone of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and was critical to wildlife conservation.

Also read: Jayanthi Natarajan quits Congress, ready to face probe | Jayanthi Natarajan's letter to Sonia Gandhi | ‘I honoured Rahul Gandhi's requests

Following multiple rejections, the proposal was also sent to the then Environment and Forest Minister Jairam Ramesh, who on April 23, 2010, observed that there was no need for reconsideration, if the land in question was in or part of the Core Zone of the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve and also noted that all previous approvals for mines in the Core Zone should be cancelled.

The company then made a representation to the then Prime Minister in July 2010 for consideration of the proposal for forest diversion. It was forwarded to then Principal Environment Secretary for appropriate action. The proposal was again placed before the FAC in September 2010 and it again recommended for its rejection, citing that status of all mines located in the core of Singhbhum Elephant Reserve was still awaited and no new facts had been brought to its notice.

After Ms. Natarajan took over as Environment Minister in July 2011, the then Jharkhand Chief Minister requested her to look into the forest clearance issue pragmatically while considering the development of the steel plant in the most under-development region.

When the matter was with Mr. Natarajan, the company’s managing director met her in September 2011 for a presentation on the proposal. Following an enquiry with the State government, the matter was again put up before her. The then Director-General (Forests) and Special Secretary had advised to refer the matter back to the FAC.

However, the FIR alleges, the then Environment Minister allowed diversion of 55.79 hectare forest land as per the proposal forwarded by the State government.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 1:21:04 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/cbi-files-fir-searches-jayanthi-natarajans-premises/article19651069.ece

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