In an interview to Sudheer Pal Singh, Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai defends himself against the allegations over the coal block allocation to a firm with which his brother was associated
What is your assessment of the entire controversy over your letter that supposedly allowed SKS to grab reserves?
This is a conspiracy by the Opposition with 2014 elections in mind. Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had the agenda of dharm (religion) and this time they have evolved an agenda entirely on the basis of lies. I fail to understand how I fit in this strategy by the opposition. I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister in February because I knew that the state’s decision in allocation of coal blocks would be final. I wanted the blocks to be allocated to SKS, too. There is no denying this. Unfortunately, both the groups, SKS and Prakash Industries, were asked to share the same coal block (Fatehpur) in Chhatisgarh. The two parties went to the court on a dispute related to the sharing of reserves. An application was placed in the court alleging my role in getting the block allocated to SKS. This was because of the letter I wrote and also because my brother, Sudhir Kant Sahai, participated in one of the meetings of the Standing Committee that allocated the block as an executive director. The other party told the court that this company is promoted by Subodh Kant Sahai. The court gave a very strong judgement in our favour. Now, with the noise over the Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s (CAG) report on coal block allocation, the Opposition has raised the issue once again to target the PM. In fact, this case can be a mirror for the whole allotment process because the process has been scrutinised by the court. Also, the guilty has been punished and the targeted party has been given justice.These days everybody is making sweeping allegations against each other.
How would you deny having any link with SKS Ispat?
I reiterate that I have no economic stake in SKS. My brother has a separate business. He is an engineer and has his own standing. The company has said he is an executive director and looks after its material handling operations in Jharkhand. My brother’s fault was only that the entity he was working for wanted to bring a project in Jharkhand. So, there was undoubtedly an interest, in the sense that if the plant comes up in our constituency, there is nothing better than that. On March 30, 2008, the coal ministry also wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) that the application of SKS would be considered on the basis of merit.
How many letters did you write? Can you deny that you wrote a letter on February 5, 2008 and the company was allotted the block the very next day (February 6)?
I wrote only one letter regarding two blocks for steel plants in the state of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. The coal block was allotted in September 2007. The company got the offer letter for that block in November 2007. The joint agreement between Prakash Industries and SKS was signed then. The allotment letter came on February 7, 2008.
So the allotment letter was issued after your letter to the PMO? Can you clarify what exactly you sought to achieve by writing that letter?
The block was already allotted in 2007. How could this be related to any letter I wrote in February 2008? I wrote in the letter that the block that should have been allotted in Jharkhand has been allotted in Chhattisgargh. I wrote a general letter saying that companies want to set up a steel plant and I recommended coal blocks for the plants.
When an already established process of screening committee exists for recommending allocation of blocks, and a letter from a cabinet minister goes to the PM seeking intervention in the case of a certain company outside this established process, it is bound to vitiate the transparency of the allocation process. Do you agree?
One should not make too much of such recommendation letters. I get hundreds of such letters every day by various ministers, for instance, for sanctioning of an area for a project being set up by the tourism department. These letters recommend that if a certain party is deserving a project, its case should be looked into. In my letter, too, I wrote that if a plant has to come up in Jharkhand, SKS should get coal. But, the state government’s role was so strong that the company did not get the block as the Jharkhand government did not give support. They got the block in Chhattisgarh. So, mere writing the letter is not a crime. It is not unethical. Everybody writes such letters to bring focus on the issue. The coal ministry wrote back to the PMO saying that SKS’ case would be considered on merit.
Are you trying to say that you wrote the letter as you were fearful that SKS Ispat would not be given the block despite being a deserving entity? What did SKS get finally?
I knew that the state government of Jharkhand would not support this company for its application for the block. This was my only concern. And, this is what happened. We are not concerned with what the company got before I wrote the letter. But after my letter in February 2008, the company got a block called Vijay Central in Chhattisgarh in November 2011 after the court case got resolved.
If such recommendation letters are a routine affair, as you claim, is it true that most of the blocks that have been given to corporate houses may have been allotted on the basis of such recommendations by high-ranking politicians?
A letter written by me may or may not have any value. But, the chief ministers’ recommendation has value. In all allocations that have happened so far, state government’s recommendation has finally prevailed. The screening committee was only supposed to look into whether the party deserved the block or not. If my letter is made a base, only one block has been allotted to SKS. And even in that case, the court has clarified that my brother’s presence would not have influenced the process.
So broadly, what has been the Opposition’s strategy to malign you in this case, as you claim?
There are three issues which have been unnecessarily blown up by the Opposition. The BJP government, including Raman Singh, and its loyalists, have knowingly cooked up the story that “SKS” in SKS Ispat Ltd stands for Subodh Kant Sahai. It actually stands for Shree Krishna Structures. Secondly, the meeting in which my brother participated was not concerned with the allocation to power sector projects. This was a concocted story. And third part of the strategy is the letter written by me. The block was allotted much before the letter.
For the first time in my 35-year long political career, I am faced with a situation where I am finding it difficult to give clarifications. For how long, or to how many, can I go on giving clarifications on this matter? The political rivals are reaping the benefits of the coincidence that my letter was written around the time when allotment of the block was made. But, I think raising this issue is a matter of contempt of the court as it has been settled by its order long back.