CBI raids Natarajan over forest land clearance case
TWO days after registering an FIR against former Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, the CBI on Saturday carried out searches at her residence in Chennai. The charges against Natarajan are criminal conspiracy and graft in connection with irregular approval for diversion of forest land in Jharkhand for mining by a private firm.
Besides the searches in Chennai, the CBI raided premises of the other accused in New Delhi and Kolkata, and the mining company’s office in Sundergarh, Odisha, said sources. The agency will soon summon Natarajan for questioning.
A preliminary enquiry had shown that Natarajan had cleared 55.79 acres of land in the Singhbhum Elephant Reserve for non-forest use (mining) by Electrosteel Casting Ltd, disregarding predecessor Jairam Ramesh’s notings, Forest Advisory Committee’s recommendations and Supreme Court guidelines, besides violating Forest Conservation Act.
The agency has booked Natarajan, Umang Kejriwal, the then managing director of Electrosteel Casting Limited (ECL), and the company, besides others. The accused have been booked under Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act relating to abuse of official position.
Natarajan’s predecessor in Environment Ministry Jairam Ramesh had rejected the ECL proposal for diversion of forest land in line with the recommendation of the Forest Advisory Committee. But Natarajan cleared proposal disregarding the FAC recommendation.
“Jayanthi Natarajan, the then Minister of State for Environment and Forests accorded the approval for diversion of 55.79 hectares of forest land for non-forestry use to ECL, though the same had been rejected by the earlier Minister of State (I/C) E&F, MoEF, without any change in the circumstances after rejection,” reads the CBI FIR. The FIR further said, “The …facts reveal criminal conspiracy between Smt. Jayanthi Natrajan, the then Minister of State (I/C) E&F, MoEf, Government of India, Sh. Umang Keriwal, Managing Director of M/S ECL & others and abuse of official position by Smt. Jayanthi Nat ra j a n … i n pu r s u a n c e o f cr i mi na l conspiracy.”
According to findings of the Preliminary Enquiry, now part of the FIR, the then Chief Minister of Jharkhand (from January 2006 to May 2009) referred the ECL request for the clearance a number of times. The then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister ((10.08.2010) referred a representation (dated July 13, 2010) by ECL addressed to the then PM for consideration of its proposal of diversion of forest land to the then Secretary of Ministry of Environment and Forest for appropriate action despite rejection of the proposal by the Forest Advisory Committee.
When Natarajan took over as Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Environment on July 13, 2011, the then Jharkhand CM requested her to consider the proposal pragmatically CBI report