Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Mar 12:
Clutching at straws – that is what Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik was doing when he latched on to the observation of the special court in New Delhi yesterday that there was nothing to suggest that his government had entered into a criminal conspiracy with Hindalco to hand over the Talabira II coal block in Sundargarh district to the Aditya Birla Group company.
“You all are aware of the directive of the court, which clearly states that there was no involvement of the Odisha government in the allocation of Talabira Coal Block-II to Hindalco,” Patnaik said on his return from a four-day sojourn to New Delhi last evening.
But what the Chief Minister conveniently failed to mention was the other observations of the court that squarely put him in the dock. It said the letter by him “cannot be termed to be a mere coincidence in view of the fact that the claim of Hindalco for the coal block was negated at the PMO and Ministry of Coal (MoC).”
The letter written by Patnaik in August 2005 provided a ‘fresh lease of life’ to the company’s bid for the coal block that had already been rejected by the screening committee, the court said.
“Prima facie it appears that the letter from Odisha Chief Minister was procured primarily to scuttle the adverse notes being made by the junior officers in the MoC and PMO,” the special court observed.
As if all this was not enough, the court also said the company, through a carefully crafted plan devised “by the representatives of Hindalco to tap its bureaucratic and political channels, managed to convince the Odisha Chief Minister to write such a letter to the Prime Minister recommending their case for allocation of Talabira II coal block.”
Much as Naveen and his supporters would want the Hindalco case off their back, it could come back to haunt him in future, given the flip-flop manner in which the investigation has progressed in the last one and a half year.
After all, the CBI had filed a closure report in the case in October last year going well beyond its brief and saying the decision to allocate the coal block to Hindalco was taken ‘in the larger interests of the nation’. It is another matter that the court did not buy this specious argument, threw out the closure report and asked the CBI to probe the case afresh.
During the course of this ‘fresh probe’, the CBI, which had found no evidence of wrongdoing against the former prime minister and had sought to close the probe earlier, found enough evidence for Singh to undergo the ignominy of appearing as an ‘accused’ in a court of law. There is nothing to suggest that a similar fate will not befall on Patnaik in future.
Coming as it does at a time when he was just about beginning to breathe easy after the visible slow down in the ongoing CBI probe into the mega chit fund scam in the state, the Talabira case is bound to give Naveen Patnaik sleepless nights. More so because it has now gone out of the hands of the investigating agency and has landed in the court.