Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said Friday he had been “invited to visit” an Essar Group luxury yacht in the waters of the French Riviera in July 2013 and he and his family spent two days on board.
A public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation after The Indian Express reported Friday how a “whistleblower” had decided to go public with Essar Group’s internal company communications — the correspondence are attached to the petition as instances of alleged impropriety.
The petitioner demanded a court-monitored investigation into an alleged unholy nexus of Essar Group with politicians, bureaucrats and journalists to promote its business interests. Essar emails show that Gadkari, his wife, two sons and daughter spent two nights on a company yacht in the French Riviera between July 7 and July 9, 2013.
Gadkari told reporters in Mumbai that his visit cannot be construed as conflict of interest since he did not seek or advance any special favours to the yacht owners. “While we were there, I was invited to visit the yacht on the Riviera waterfront. I responded as I wanted to see the yacht. I along with my family spent two days on the yacht.”
“I would have been too happy to pay for the ticket to board the yacht. But since it was an invitation from a friend, I sought the hospitality. The only mode of reaching the yacht was via chopper which we availed. Obviously, I wouldn’t have gone swimming (to the yacht).”
“It has always been my hobby to visit places and see new things. The visit to the yacht was in the same way. I have seen seaplanes and water buses. In fact, I am getting seaplanes and water buses to Mumbai… At that time I was neither a MP nor a minister nor a BJP president,” he said.
In New Delhi, the Congress rejected Gadkari’s explanation that there was no conflict of interest.
Congress spokesman P C Chacko said no corporate house would extend any benefit to anybody for free and Gadkari’s explanation that he was a nobody at that point of time cannot be taken seriously. “The company knew that he is important in his party, that he is going to be somebody more important, and then they will get some benefit out of that,” he said.
“It is for politicians to keep away from such temptations. We were in power for 20 years when the liberalisation happened since 1991. Hardly anybody’s name was associated with this kind of thing,” he said.
Asked that Essar emails show that some Congress leaders, including Digvijaya Singh and Motilal Vora and former union minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, had referred candidates for jobs in the company, he said “whoever can give jobs, we have to write to them”.
“And somebody has made some recommendation for a job…..they can give, they cannot say no also. They made some recommendation for jobs…whoever can give jobs we have to write to them. We are in public life, so we may write to them. But other than that, using their chopper or their guest house… these kinds of facilities of the company which politicians use is not a good thing. Companies or corporates, whosoever is offering these, they will definitely expect a quid pro quo,” Chacko said.
But his Congress colleague Rajiv Shukla made light of Gadkari’s yacht ride. “It should not be made a big issue… I do not think it is a very big thing. If anyone travels in someone’s cruise boat, I am not in favour of raising it in a big way,” Shukla said.
Gadkari’s ministerial colleague Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi declined comment saying “such rubbish keeps coming and I don’t think one should react to them on a daily basis.”