President’s Office Placed Granddaughter, Two Others in Essar, Says Magazine

President Pranab Mukherjee. Credit: Govt. of India

President Pranab Mukherjee. Credit: Govt. of India

A mail trail among officials of Essar group, which has investments in the energy, steel and infrastructure sectors, has indicated that President Pranab Mukherjee while holding the highest office in the country had urged the company to provide employment to his granddaughter Suchismita Mukherjee and also played a good “father’s friend” by getting a job in the company for one Avijit Banerjee.

This apart, the series of mails — put out in an article by Caravan Magazine — also indicate that during his term as Finance Minister in the UPA Government, when the company had approached him on May 1, 2012 for an “early date for GOM (Group of Ministers meeting) on Mahan (a 600 MW power plant in Madhya Pradesh which was commissioned later in December that year by the company)”, Mr Mukherjee had “shown his annoyance” that the company had not recruited Santosh Reddy, whose resume had been forwarded by him the previous November.

Subsequently, it turned out, that Santosh Reddy, who was the son of N.B. Reddy, a spiritual figure revered by Mr Mukherjee and his family as “Guru Ji”, landed the job the same month.

Rashtrapati Bhavan had no official comment to make on the story and its claims. In response to the article which referred to the three appointments made in Essar at President Mukherjee’s insistence, the company’s official spokesperson denied that any of the three mentioned here were hired because of their connections.

Unofficial Rashtrapati Bhavan sources told The Wire, that as far as the case of Suchismita went, “the Private Secretary is only reported to have forwarded a copy of her passport which is hardly wrong. She was in the United Kingdom pursuing her studies and had also done an internship there.” As for the other two persons – Avijit Banerjee and Santosh Reddy — the sources said: “Their names have figured in the internal communication of the company. I don’t even know who they are”.

Caravan Magazine claimed it got in touch with Santosh who still works with Essar. “When I called Reddy on 8 June 2015 this week, he confirmed that he was still working with Essar but refused to answer any of my other questions. He did not respond to the multiple calls that I made from different numbers after that either,” the article read.

Guru ji’s son

Further, it added. “I was trying to ask him if he was indeed “Guru Ji’s” son before he disconnected. Guru Ji is NB Reddy, a spiritual guru at the Shambhulingeshwara temple situated in Bidar in Karnataka. However, when I called a number that I had found online for the temple, a person named Mallikarjun told me that Santosh is NB Reddy’s son. Malikarjun also added that Pranab Mukherjee was an ardent follower of Guru Ji, who is the reincarnation of Shambhulingeshwara. He told me that he had last seen Mukherjee at the temple in 2005, although Mukherjee continue to meet NB Reddy regularly in Delhi. Mukherjee’s daughter-in-law, Chitralekha Mukherjee, and grandson Arjun Mukherjee had visited the temple in June 2012, before his presidential bid.”

As for President Mukherjee’s 25-year-old granddaughter Suchismita, the article, “Should the Office of the President be Working to Ensure His Granddaughter Gets Placed with Essar in London?”, disclosed how on September 26, 2013, Pradeep Gupta, the Private Secretary of the President of India sent an email to himself which only contained a copy of her passport as an attachment. Later the same day, forwarded this email to Alok Chauhan, a corporate affairs executive at Essar Services India Limited (ESIL).

It also referred to an earlier email exchange that had taken place in the same month, the subject of which read, “Suchismita Mukherjee,” and which had top executives of the Essar group such as Adil Malia, the group president for Human Resources (HR) and Sunil Bajaj, the director of ESIL’s corporate relations group, discussing which position they ought to hire Ms. Mukherjee for. The email indicated that she would be hired at Essar’s London office and the exchange revolved around whether they should employ her as an intern or for a full-time job in one of Essar’s companies.

Subsequently Suchismita was taken on as an intern by Essar.

As for Avijit Banerjee, the article referred to the communication between two senior company officials on October 11, 2012 which was marked “confidential” and of “high” importance.

The article said the communication read: “I once again request you to process the same as I am having constant pressure from the Hon’ble President.” The “same”, it implied, in this case presumably referred to the resume of Banerjee, who, according to an earlier email communication between the two officials on September 10 had been “strongly recommended by the Hon’ble President Sh. Pranab Mukherjee.” It also referred to a project in Kolkata, where the “Hon’ble President has desire[d] to place him.”

Caravan Magazine said when on June 8, 2015, it contacted Banerjee through the phone number that was mentioned on the attached resume, “he told me that he was still employed with Essar, and when I ventured to ask him about his proximity to Pranab Mukherjee, Banerjee said that “He [Pranab Mukherjee] is my father’s friend.” He added that it was “based on his [Mukherjee’s] recommendation that I got the job in 2013.” According to Banerjee, he started working with Essar from January 2, 2013.”

Essar says only merit matters

An Essar spokesperson was quoted as saying in an email: “At the outset, we wish to clarify that in the course of business, we receive recommendations for appointment from multiple sources, which are processed by the HR Department and if the applicants are found suitable for appointment, their capacity, integrity and competency would be assessed stringently in an interview held for the purpose and offers for appointment  are made only to those applicants who succeed in such interview.”

“In the present case, the three incumbents referred to in your email possessed qualifications for the appointment. They were appointed after following the internal selection procedure. Therefore, our decision to appoint them was not influenced by any extraneous consideration, as alleged by you or otherwise. Ms. Suchismita Mukherjee was not an employee, but she was appointed only as an intern for a period of one year, which she duly completed.”

On whether these cases pertained to any moral or ethical wrong, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said he would not like to get drawn into the argument as it was the party’s policy to not make political comments on matters involving the office of the President of India.