Fishy poll-eve MoU raises a stink


    Reported by Chinmaya Dehury/Edited by Sandeep Sahu

    Bhubaneswar, Sep 19:

    There is clearly something about the pre-election period which makes the Naveen Patnaik government become hyperactive in signing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with companies or laying foundation stones for industrial projects.


    On the eve of the 2004 Assembly elections, it was the foundation stone laying of Vedanta’s 1 million ton per annum (MTPA) refinery at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district for which the MoU had been signed on June 7 the previous year. On one particular day barely weeks before the model code of conduct came into effect for the simultaneous Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in 2009 (February 7, 2009), the Naveen government signed MoUs with as many as eight companies – among them the 1320 MW thermal power plant proposed to be set up by a certain Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) at Boinda in Angul district at a cost of Rs 5, 940 crores. And now, with the general elections just a few months away, the government is ready with a MoU to be signed with Jindal Synfuels Limited (JSFL), a sister company of JSPL, for a Rs 42, 000 crore coal to liquid (CTL) project at Durgapur in the same Angul district that would presumably produce 80, 000 barrels of oil, besides 1100 MW of power , a day.

    Given these extraordinary turn of events, one can hardly be blamed for smelling a rat in a fishy affair.

    The conclusion is inescapable that the hurriedly put together MoU is a desperate attempt by the Naveen government to save the Ramachandi coal block, currently under investigation by the CBI in the coal block scam, for the Chief Minister’s namesake and simultaneously save its skin from the heat of the CBI inquiry.

    “The project simply does not exist. It is just on pen and paper,” points out senior BJP leader Bijay Mohapatra. “Since the matter is pending with the Supreme Court and the CBI is inquiring into the matter, the government and the company should first come clean from the legal battle,” he says.

    Mohapatra’s party colleague and national general secretary of the party Dharmendra Pradhan had also written a letter to the Prime Minister a few weeks ago demanding cancellation of the coal block allocated to the Navin Jindal headed company.

    The CAG has identified Ramchandi Promotional Coal blocks as ‘recipients of undue benefits and windfall profits’ for being allocated bypassing the ‘bidding processes’; Pradhan had pointed out in his letter.

    The CTL project, for which the mines were allocated, is still in the drawing board stage and the company had not yet obtained prospecting licence, the first step towards exploration and development, even four years after the allocation, he had said.

    The CBI, it may be noted, has already asked the Planning Commission for files pertaining to allotment of coal blocks in the Talcher area to companies like Jindal Steel and Tata Sasol for CTL fuel. As part of its overall probe into the coal scam, the agency is probing if the allocations made for the CTL projects were in violation of any policy.

    While the state government, in line with its policy framed last year, is not going to make no commitment for raw material linkage in the MoU to be signed, it has assured JSFL that it would extend “all requisite help” to the company in getting the clearance for development of Ramachandi coal block.

    As part of its desperate attempt to give post facto legitimacy to the project, the government has also decided to provide at least 50 per cent of the 5, 000 acres of land required to the company without waiting for benchmarking and other detailed analysis.

    The cozy relationship between the BJD supremo and the Congress MP goes a long way. In 2002, Naveen had burnt his fingers for his buddy by writing to then Union minister of state for Coal and Mines Ravishankar Prasad for cancellation of the Utkal B 1 coal block allocated to Talcher Mining Private Limited and its allocation to Jindal instead, a request that was promptly granted by the NDA government of which Naveen’s party was an important constituent. Curiously, the coal block remains unutilised more than a decade after its allocation to Jindal.

    Given the fact that both the UPA government at the Centre and the BJD government in Odisha have multiple skeletons in their coal cupboards, Naveen may yet emerge unscathed in a case where it should not be much of a problem to establish a quid pro quo. But then that would perhaps be asking for the moon from the ‘caged parrot’ as long as the cage belongs to the Congress party with which Naveen has a ‘you scratch my back, I scratch yours’ relationship.