Former Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan seems to have landed in a bit of a trouble after the CBI raided her premises on Saturday and consequently filed an FIR against her. Natarajan was the Minister of State for Environment and Forests from 2011 to 2013.
According to reports the searches were in connection with alleged environmental clearances given by her in for a project in Jharkhand. The searches were carried out in Chennai, Delhi, Sundergarh (Orissa), Kolkata and Ranchi. The case pertains to clearances given to a mining company Electrosteel Casting Limited (ECL) for diverting forest land in Sarana which falls under the Jharkhand’s Singhbhum district. These clearances allegedly violated the Forest Conservation Act.
The report also claims that Natarajan would soon be called for questioning. She has been accused of criminal conspiracy and abuse of official position which falls under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
According to the CBI FIR, 55.79 hectares of forest land was given to the mining company for non-forestry purposes. This diversion though was incidentally opposed by her predecessor Jairam Ramesh and the FIR observed that the approval was given even though there were no changes of circumstances after the rejection.
Natarajan had quit from the ministry in December 2013 and the insinuated reason was that she would be focusing on party work for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Though it had also been suggested that she was removed over allegations of irregularities in the grant of clearances. Veerappa Moily, who succeeded her, reportedly found that nearly 350 files had been held back by her office. In 2014 Narendra Modi during the election campaign had infamously used the phrase “Jayanthi Tax” for alleging rent-seeking and corruption by the UPA government.
Natarajan had quit the Congress in 2015 after attacking party vice-president Rahul Gandhi. She in an explosive resignation letter had claimed that Rahul had made specific requests over the granting of clearances. She had also claimed that she was forced by the Congress to attack Narendra Modi over the alleged “Snoopgate” controversy. The letter sent to Sonia Gandhi had reportedly failed to elicit any response.
In light of the FIR against her, the Congress almost predictably has stayed silent, with only Manish Tewari voicing his opposition. This was a vivid contrast from the “act of political vendetta” line which the party has touted in the past when it came to the cases of Virbhadra Singh, Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Karthi Chidambaram.
It might be argued that the reason for the silence is that Natarajan is no longer with the Congress. Even though that’s true, these CBI raids not just put her but also put the UPA government in the dock considering that the irregularities happened during its period.