The Rajasthan High Court on Tuesday issued notices to the state government and the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) over alleged inaction in a 600-crore scam probe involving multinational mining giant Vedanta Resources. Justice V K Vyas issued the notices to the ACB and the state home secretary, on a petition by advocate A K Jain, seeking their response within three weeks.
In September 2015, The Indian Express had reported the scam, where an official ACB probe had revealed that IAS officer Ashok Singhvi (arrested then in an alleged multi-crore bribery racket) had allegedly benefitted Hindustan Zinc Ltd, a subsidiary of Vedanta-owned Sterlite industries.
Days later, the ACB registered a FIR in the matter based on its own preliminary probe. In his petition filed on July 24th, Jain alleged that despite a preliminary enquiry and a subsequent FIR, the investigation in the matter has not progressed at all.
“First, the ACB did not act on its own preliminary probe which established this massive scam. After seven years they registered a FIR but since then there has been no progress in the investigation,” Jain alleged.
In 2011, a preliminary enquiry by the ACB had recommended an FIR on criminal conspiracy against Singhvi, two other officials of the mining department, and Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) for letting the Vedanta subsidiary walk away with 3.87 million tonnes of rock phosphate ore.
The ACB claimed its probe found that on November 1, 2006, Singhvi first ordered revocation of a lease granted to HZL when it was a Government of India-owned company. The next day, the mines department took possession of the mine.
When HZL, which had by then been acquired by Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries, moved the High Court against the government’s order, the mining department put up a solid defence with a caveat.
But in October 2008, Singhvi allegedly prevailed on his department to withdraw the government’s case from the High Court and restored the lease to HZL “causing the state government a direct loss of over Rs 600 crore”, stated the report on the probe conducted by ACB officer Mahendra Singh Harsana.
While rock phosphate in the state can only be mined by Rajasthan State Mines and Minerals Limited (RSMML), the state government had granted one mining lease to HZL, when it was still a state-owned company, on the “condition that it would only sell to RSMML”.
However, on April 11, 2002, shortly after the lease was renewed for 10 years, HZL was acquired by Sterlite Opportunities & Ventures Limited, promoted by Sterlite Industries India Ltd, a subsidiary of Vedanta, under the then NDA government’s disinvestment drive.
According to the ACB’s preliminary probe, HZL violated the government’s lease terms, including operating without environment clearance and inviting bids for mining and selling 1 lakh metric tonne of rock phosphate which was the sole right of RSMML.