Politics

Essar Email Trail Turns Spotlight on Pranab Mukherjee, Moily

File picture of Pranab Mukherjee [Photo credit: PTI]

File picture of President Pranab Mukherjee [Photo credit: PTI]

New Delhi: A second round of email leaks from the industrial house Essar has come back to haunt the erstwhile UPA regime and particularly Congress leaders like Veerappa Moily, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and some of her party colleagues. Significantly, the President of India’s office has also been dragged into the controversy with the emails suggesting Pranab Mukherjee, who was finance minister at the time, lobbied the conglomerate to give a job to an acquaintance of his.

The Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), an NGO that conducts litigation on matters of public interest, led by its general secretary, Kamini Jaiswal has filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court alleging that the compromising emails it had accessed and submitted as annexures reveal a “nexus” between the company and the country’s top politicians and bureaucrats.

The allegations against Mukerhjee are likely to come as an embarrassment to not just the Congress but the present government too since he is now President.

The internal emails, dated between 2012 and 2013, indicate that the Essar group had easy access to UPA ministers and to the government’s internal documents. In return, it offered politicians and bureaucrats various favours, including jobs for their nominees, arranging for travel through special aircraft, taking care of their accommodation and providing various other luxurious services. The emails suggest that in return, the company was shown undue favours.

In its affidavit, the CPIL affidavit has the following to say about Pranab Mukherjee:

“9. Essar had a major stake in Mahan coal block (now the allocation of the same has been cancelled by this Hon’ble Court in the coal scam case). They were actively pursuing for its clearances. A Group of Ministers (GOM) was constituted by the UPA Government for a review of its clearances. An SMS forwarded by Essar’s Mr. Prashant Ruia to Mr. Sunil Bajaj shows the effort Essar was making to pursue its case with the GOM. It reads: “I have requested the PS to Finance Minister to fix the date for GOM at the earliest. He has agreed for that.” A copy of the email dated 09.02.2012 forwarding the SMS is annexed as Annexure P47.

“10. An email dated 01.05.2012 shows that Essar was in touch with the then Finance Minister. Mr. Sunil Bajaj wrote that he met the then Finance Minister for an early date for the GOM. The Finance Minister showed his “annoyance” that his request to appoint Mr. Santosh Reddy in the Group has not yet been implemented, according to the said email. He therefore requests for approval of the appointment of Mr. Reddy. Mr. Bajaj writes: “I met FM again & requested him to give an early date for GOM on Mahan… he has given me a resume of Mr. Santosh Reddy to absorb him suitably in the group. He has shown his annoyance that Mr. Reddy has not been recruited so far.” A copy of the email exchange dated 01.05.2012 is annexed as Annexure P48.

“11. The very next day, i.e. on 02.05.2012 offer letter to Mr. Santosh Reddy is approved with an income of Rs 12 lakh per annum asking him to join on 07.05.2012. A copy of the email exchange dated 02.05.2012 is annexed as Annexure P49. This shows how major corporate groups like Essar bestow favours on senior ministers for getting benefits in return, including on issues concerning natural resources like coal which are pending before a high level group of Union Ministers.”

Mukherjee was India’s finance minister from January 24, 2009 to June 26, 2012. Asked by The Wire whether there would a response from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the CPIL’s charge that the President had lobbied for a job on behalf of Santosh Reddy, a presidential official said, ‘No’.

The leaked emails also put Sanjiv Kumar, the private secretary of Moily, who was petroleum minister at the time, under the scanner for asking Essar to provide a job to his nephew. The emails indicate Moily himself lobbied the company on behalf of a powerful constituent. To quote the CPIL affidavit:

“In another email, Mr. Bajaj writes to Mr. Ruia that “Dr. Veerappa Moily ji has given me a letter from a person from his constituency for cancellation of lease deed agreement for Essar Petrol Pump. The person concerned is very influential keeping the vote politics in view, therefore, he insisted his work should be done immediately. Submitted for your kind approval to the concerned officer.” A copy of the said email dated 22.08.2013 is annexed as Annexure P56.”

An email appended by CPIL indicates the Essar group had facilitated to and fro travel for six Trinamool leaders from Kolkata to New Delhi. This email dated July 24, 2012 says, “Am mentioning under the names of the six passengers who will travel tonight from Kolkatta to Delhi.” These were – Mamata Banerjee (now West Bengal Chief Minister), Mithun Chakraborty (now a Rajya Sabha MP), Kunal Ghosh (suspended from TMC for an indefinite period and an RS MP), Debasish Chakraborty (former TMC chairperson), Bishwa Ranjan Mazumdar and Rajat Roy Chowdhury. The TMC leaders travelled to Delhi on July 24 and returned on July 25 via a Gulfstream V aircraft.

The DNA newspaper, which asked Mamata Banerjee’s office for a response, received a reply that only further serves to highlight the apparently close relations between Essar and Pranab Mukherjee:

“In response to dna queries, media advisor to West Bengal government, Pradip Kumar Chakraborty, said the travel was for the swearing-in ceremony of Pranab Mukherjee as President on July 25, 2012. Along with the response, he sent a Bengali newspaper cutting dated July 23, 2012, with an English translation quoting Pranab Mukherjee stating, “If you have any difficulty in coming to Delhi for the ceremony, a special plane will be sent to fetch you from Kolkata and the plane will also take you back after the event.”

In its affidavit, the CPIL has asked the Supreme Court to “direct a thorough court-monitored investigation by an SIT or the CBI into the high level of political-bureaucratic-corporate nexus wherein corporates like Essar use their money power to change public policies, plant questions in Parliament, get access to internal government documents/cabinet papers, grant favours to politicians and bureaucrats for receiving benefits in return.”

On its part, Essar has refused to comment on the veracity of the emails or their contents on the grounds that the entire matter is sub judice.