Wednesday, 13 April 2016

From Fishermen to Judges: how Adani bought a hassle-free ride
Bangalore Mirror dated 13/4/16
SIT investigating scores of officers after details emerge of huge amounts paid for iron ore export

On March 8, 2008 an e-mail attachment with the subject line "cash a/c" was sent from the accounts section of Adani Enterprises Limited at Belekere port to the company head office. The e-mail triggered one of the biggest investigations ever carried out by the Lokayukta's Special Investigation Team (SIT), formed specifically to handle illegal mining cases.

The mail detailed the huge amounts paid to officers from various departments -- payments unaccounted for, made on behalf of the company that did not feature on any official balance sheet. It would mark the starting point of a tortuous 'bribery' trail that left no hallway of power uncharted.

Under SIT's scanner are over 500 officials, ranging from SPs to MLAs and includes MPs, judges; even traffic cops and hawaldars had a share of the pie. All this is mentioned in the e-mail and it is alleged they were paid to "facilitate smooth business".

Now senior officers and those in public service are braced to answer some tough questions as the investigation gathers steam.

"It is a huge task. The list spans a period of four years and each and every designation mentioned in the mail has to be checked, notices issued to those on the list who will also have to be summoned so their statements can be recorded. The person who sent the mail has quit and he too needs to be tracked down,'' a senior police official, part of the investigating team explained to BM.

During the four-year period -- 2004 to 2008 -- payments ranged from Rs500 to Rs2 lakh, depending on the designation, were made. While the police outpost regularly received Rs1,000, an obscure traffic control mentioned in the list got Rs500. An unnamed judge got Rs50,000. In the police department, according to the entries, right from the constable to the top man in charge of the district, everyone was paid on almost a monthly basis.

The area MLA and MP were also allegedly well looked-after. The entries show that in December 2005, the MLA was paid Rs1 lakh. Similarly, in October and November 2006, there is an entry of Rs2.5 lakh and Rs3 lakh. In November 2006, the MP was given Rs2 lakh and in October 2007, another Rs2 lakh as an IOU.

The genesis of this case goes back to the golden mining days in Bellary belt -- 2003-04 onwards. The authorities smelt a rat as mining exports soared and mining firms owned by influential politicians including G Janardhana Reddy made hay.

The Supreme Court-appointed Central Empowered Committee's interim report in April 2011 estimated that between 2003 and 2010, in the Bellary region alone, Rs15,245 crore worth of iron ore was illegally exported. Subsequently, in July 2011, an inquiry report by the Lokayukta put the total loss to state coffers at Rs16,085 crore.

Adani Enterprises, one of Adani Group's flagship companies, was one among the four stevedores that was leased a certain area within Belekere port for providing facilities like jetties, barges, shelter, roads and other amenities to facilitate the export of iron ore and undertake the loading of cargo on to ships. As a stevedore, the company was expected to maintain a record of data and accounts and ensure that all transactions conformed to the Karnataka Ports Rules and other related regulations.

In February 2010, working on a tip off that illegally-mined iron ore was being exported through Belekere port, the Lokayukta raided the port and seized various documents including digital records belonging to Adani Enterprises.

From the digital data recovered, a file was retrieved with an e-mail attachment named "cash a/c" which gave out information on the alleged bribes paid to officials. "It is alleged that these payments were made to various public servants on behalf of the company, to facilitate smooth business in return for hassle-free business in the port. In the process, the officers committed criminal misconduct by receiving the bribes,'' says the FIR filed in the case by former SP of SIT H S Revanna in December 2014.

The SIT presided over 68 mining cases in the early part of 2014 of which 40 have been closed and 16 chargesheeted, including some high profile ones involving politicians and well-known mining barons.

"While in most cases only the designation of the concerned public servant was mentioned, in a few instances names of public servants were mentioned. It is revealed that the company conspired with various public servants belonging to departments like ports, customs, police, mines and geology, weights and measures, KSPCB, revenue, PWD or their offices; and also included MLAs, MPs and judges and paid huge bribes to them amounting to Rs2.65 crore in the four years in return for official favours,'' says the SIT FIR.

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