Naveen Patnaik and Kumar Mangalam Birla
New Delhi/Bhubaneswar, Oct. 17: CBI sources today hinted that the agency may question Naveen Patnaik in connection with the coal allocation controversy as they stumbled upon a letter written by the Odisha chief minister to the coal ministry recommending coal blocks to Hindalco.
“Whoever will be required for investigation in the case, will be examined,” CBI director Ranjit Sinha told The Telegraph when asked whether Naveen would be questioned for recommending coal blocks to Hindalco, part of the Aditya Birla Group.
The company is setting up an aluminium smelter of a capacity of 2,60,000 tonnes per annum in Sambalpur district, adjoining Jharsuguda, for which they need a captive power plant of 900MW capacity. The initial project cost was around Rs 11,000 crore.
The CBI today claimed to have recovered several incriminating documents, including the recommendation letter written by Naveen, during the search operations carried out two days ago at six locations.
“Patnaik had written a letter in May 2005 to the Prime Minister’s Office recommending allocation of the Odisha-based Talabira coal block to Hindalco whose application was turned down by the 25th screening committee,” said a senior CBI official, adding that the purported letter was found during the scrutiny of the seized documents.
Another senior CBI official said Naveen, in his letter, had requested for a re-look and reverse rejection of Hindalco’s application for the Talabira block.
“No final decision has been taken as yet on his questioning but if need be, we will examine him, seeking his views on the reasons for recommending coal blocks to Hindalco,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The CBI on Tuesday booked Hindalco, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and then coal secretary P.C. Parakh for alleged corruption and criminal conspiracy in the allocation of coal blocks and conducted search at three offices of Hindalco in Mumbai, Delhi and Bhubaneswar as well as on Parekh’s residence in Secunderabad.
The Odisha government, in turn, has asserted that it had done nothing wrong in recommending the Talbira-II coal block in favour of Hindalco for its power plant.
The chief minister’s office issued a statement today in the wake of the brewing controversy over the allotment.
“A dedicated coal block is needed for the operation of a power plant and an aluminium smelter plant. The work of the plant is in the final stage and is likely to commence by December this year,” official sources said in Bhubaneswar.
In its statement, the chief minister’s office said it gave much importance to mineral development in the state taking into account the abundant reserves of bauxite, iron ore and coal. This would mean value addition, leading to more jobs and more revenue for the government.
“Keeping the best interests of the state in mind, the chief minister had written a letter to the Prime Minister indicating that Hindalco’s request for the Talabira–II coal block in the IB Valley of Jharsuguda district be examined,” the statement said.
Naveen had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, requesting him to allocate coal blocks to Hindalco Industries of the Aditya Birla Group on August 17, 2005. The Talabira-II coal block was allocated jointly to Mahanadi CoalFields Limited (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation Limited (NLC) and Hindalco in November 2005.
Naveen again wrote a letter arguing for more coal block allocation for the company. In this missive dated December 14, 2009, the chief minister had maintained that the company had so far been allocated Talabira coal blocks that did not contain reserves enough to meet the demand of the captive power plant over a period of 30 years.
“I would recommend allocation of the Tangaradia coal block with a reserve of 171 million tonne in the IB Valley in favour of the industries for its additional requirement of coal,” the letter said. However, the Tangaradia block has not yet been allocated.
Arguing for the coal block, Naveen had said: “Odisha while contributing to the nation is also keen to promote smelter facility with the State as they enable higher value addition and consequence generation of revenue and employment.”
In the statement today, the chief minister’s office said: “Since power was a major raw material for an aluminium project and such a project has the added benefit of promoting value addition in the state, thereby adding to our revenue and generating employment, we had asked the central government to examine the request of the Hindalco.”
The chief minister’s office also maintained that as per the procedure for coal block allotment, the final decision rests with the central government.