CBI books Jayanthi Natarajan for graft, raids her premises

The CBI on Saturday said it has registered an FIR against former Union Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan for allegedly granting speedy clearances during her tenure for diverting forest land for mining in violation of laws.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also conducted multiple raids on Natarajan’s properties in Delhi and other cities and her premises in Chennai.

The FIR against Natarajan, who held office during the UPA-II government, was registered on Thursday.

Besides Natarajan, those named in the FIR are Umang Kejriwal, the then Managing Director of Electrosteel Casting Ltd, apart from other unidentified persons.

The case was registered on charges of criminal conspiracy and abuse of official position under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The charges pertain to clearance given for diversion of land in Saranda forest in Jharkhand’s Singhbhum district to mining company Electrosteel in alleged violation of the Forest (Conservation Act) in 2012.

The permission was rejected by Minister of State for Environment Jairam Ramesh, but when Natarajan assumed the post, she allegedly cleared it.

“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 (Electrosteel Casting Ltd), though the same had been rejected by the earlier Minister of State…without any change in the circumstances after rejection,” the CBI FIR said.

It said this approval had been granted without adhering to the advice of Director General (Forests) and directions of the Supreme Court in this regard.

During the Lok Sabha election campaign last year, Narendra Modi had coined the term “Jayanthi tax”, referring to public perception about the manner in which environment clearances were given during her tenure. After she left the Congress, even her erstwhile party colleagues referred to “Jayanthi tax”.

Natarajan had stoutly denied the allegations and said: “Let them prove that. I welcome any inquiry to prove if I have committed any wrong. I have done my duty without any blemish. When my own party has treated me shabbily, why not Modi?”

The CBI had registered a preliminary inquiry in the case in 2014 on the allegation that unidentified Jharkhand government officials in 2005 recommended a proposal of Electrosteel Casting Ltd to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest for leasing 192.50 hectares of land for the mining of iron and manganese ores in Saranda forest.

The ministry cleared the proposal for 55.79 hectares of forest land submitted by the company on February 4, 2012 for non-forestry use out of 192.50 hectares of land, in violation of mining laws, environmental laws and the directions of the Supreme Court.

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