As a two-member CBI team visited former disinvestment minister Arun Shourie in connection with its preliminary enquiry into the alleged irregularities in the divestment of Hindustan Zinc Ltd (HZL) during the NDA regime, Shourie laid out the facts of the case before the agency, underscoring that the charges it was probing had been rejected in toto by the Supreme Court as recently as December 2012.
Shourie is learnt to have told the CBI that the recommendation to disinvest 25 per cent was raised to 26 per cent because under company law, an investor acquires an important say in a company’s management only if he has at least 26 per cent equity.
He is believed to have stressed that the entire process had been transparent, and that Attorney General G E Vahanvati had, before the CBI reopened the decade-old matter, opined that there was no case for challenging the decision.
Shourie apparently reminded the officials that the decision had not been questioned at the time, not even by MPs most vociferously opposed to privatisation.
He explained to them that every decision was taken after it had been considered by the inter-ministerial group in which all concerned ministries — in particular the administrative ministry which was, in this case, Mines — were represented; the core group on disinvestment headed by the cabinet secretary; and a separate valuation committee comprising two members from the Ministry of Mines, and the CMD of the company.
“Every proposal was referred to, and the decision was taken by, the Cabinet Committee on Disinvestment presided over by the PM, and the role of the Ministry of Disinvestment was that of a facilitator,” he is learnt to have said.
The disinvestment procedures were elaborate, and scrupulously adhered to, he said. Every step was explained through press statements.
On the queries related to the Supreme Court judgment on the disinvestment of HPCL and BPCL, Shourie is believed to have said that the judgment had no relevance to the HZL case. It was delivered in September 2003, after the disinvestment of HZL (April 2002), and the court did not say that it would have retrospective effect.
The CBI officers also recorded the statement of Vedanta group chairman Anil Agarwal. The agency had last year registered a PE against Agarwal and unknown officials in connection with alleged irregularities in the disinvestment of HZL. The agency believes that the loss to the exchequer due to the alleged irregularities runs into hundreds of crores of rupees.