The Central Bureau of Investigation has filed an FIR against former Union environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan for ‘criminal conspiracy’ and ‘abuse of official position’. Jayanthi Natarajan, the former Forest and Environment minister has been booked under criminal conspiracy IPC Section 120 B and 13 (2), 13/1(d) abuse of official position under of the Prevention of Corruption act.
Jayanthi Natarajan, who had a bitter falling out with the Congress party in 2015,was on Saturday raided by the CBI in connection with a corruption case that raises serious questions over her decision to divert forest land in Jharkhand during her ministerial stint in UPA-II government.
Officials of the Central Bureau of Investigation, according to sources, carried out searches at the premises of Jayanthi Natarajan in Chennai on Saturday. The case pertains to clearance given for diversion of forest land in Saranda Forest, Singhbhum District in Jharkhand to a mining company, Electrosteel, in alleged violation of Forest (Conservation Act) in 2012.Jayanthi has been named accused number one in the FIR that also names Umang Kejriwal, former managing director of ‘Electosteel Casting limited’.
According to the FIR,a case preliminary enquiry was registered over allegations that during 2005, unknown officials of Jharkhand recommended a proposal of Electrosteel Casting Limited to the Ministry of Environment and Forest for leasing 192.50 hectares of land for iron and manganese ore mining in Saranda forest. The allegation was that the proposal was in violation of section 2(iii) of the Forest (Conversation) act, 1980 but unknown officials of the union ministry approved the proposal on February 2, 2012.
The FIR states that company had sought 55.79 of the proposed 192.50 hectares for non-forestry use. Ms Natarajan, was environment minister between 2011 and 2013 in the Manmohan Singh government“The facts reveal a criminal conspiracy between Jayanthi Natarajan and Umang Kejriwal and abuse of official office by Jayanthi Natarajan,” the CBI FIR states.
The probe against Jayanthi had begun in 2015, when the CBI had filed five Preliminary Enquiries (PEs) in connection with irregularities related to decisions taken by Jayanthi Natarajan.
The CBI officials stated that Congress MP Jairam Ramesh, from whom she took over as environment minister, had rejected the land conversion proposal. Jayanthi Natarajan overturned the decision after assuming office in 2011.
“Jayanthi Natarajan 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…without any change in the circumstances after rejection,” read the FIR.
Jayanthi Natarajan will be called soon for questioning, CBI sources said. The CBI has alleged that this clearance by Jayanthi Natarajan, as the then minister, who approved the land for non-forestry use and diverted the same which was against the prevailing mining and environmental laws as well as contrary to the directions provided by the Supreme Court.
Being the granddaughter of former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Bakthavatsalam in the sixties, politics came relatively easier to Jayanthi Natarajan. But she was never a mass leader to begin with, and her proximity to Rajiv Gandhi ensured that she entered the Upper House (Rajya Sabha) in 1986 when she was just 32 years old.
Much to the discomfiture of most Congressmen, she was to get four terms from the same party since then. She had almost everything she could have asked for in the party, she was spokesperson for over a decade and was symbolic of the party’s focus on women under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
Jayanti Natarajan resigned from the Congress Party on January 30, 2015. In a letter written to Sonia Gandhi, Jayanti Natarajan accused the party machinery, Rahul Gandhi in particular, of having worked towards a campaign to malign her and her reputation. She also believed, according to the letter, that she was being made a scapegoat for the economic policy paralysis observed in the UPA-II government.
Specifically, she believed that while she took decisions of halting certain industrial and infrastructure projects at the behest of Mr. Rahul Gandhi, certain sections of the party spread rumours that she was made to resign on December 20, 2013 due to her stance on these projects.
“I received specific requests,which used to be directives for us,from Shri Rahul Gandhi and his office forwarding environmental concerns in some important areas and I took care to honour those “requests”,” Natarajan said in her resignation letter to Sonia. Specifically, she alleged that she had “rejected environmental clearance to Vedanta” at the behest of Rahul’s office.
Ms. Natarajan was not available for comment. But her tenure as the UPA’s Environment Minister had become a big campaign issue for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who accused the Environment Ministry of imposing “Jayanthi tax” to clear projects. Ms. Natarajan, however, had played down those remarks the day she had announced her decision to quit the Congress after she felt “vilified, humiliated and sidelined.”
Every time the CBI acted against a former UPA Minister, the Opposition called it “an act of political vendetta”. But in the case of former Environment and Forest Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, whose premises were raided by the agency on Saturday for “diverting 55.79 acres of forest land for non-forest use”, there was a studied silence.