Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maoists got 30% cut in Koda's Jharkhand plunder

Pradeep Thakur, TNN 15 November 2009, 01:40am IST


NEW DELHI: Maoists never tire of styling themselves as the vanguard of resistance to the plunder of resources in the tribal-dominated regions,
citing this as one of the justifications for "class warfare". But as the investigation into the gigantic Jharkhand scam progresses, it turns out they were party to the loot of natural resources, cornering a big share of booty from the "illegal mining" that allegedly thrived during Madhu Koda's chief ministership.

Interrogation of four aides of the former Jharkhand CM, including his personal assistant Harinder Singh, at the Delhi office of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) reveals Koda issued about 200 prospective mining leases -- for exploration of minerals in the state -- besides 40 for mining.

Though prospective mining leases were not permitted to mine scarce resources, in most of the cases, businessmen who procured those, it has come to light, resorted to large-scale mining. The share of the illegal activity was equally distributed among politicians, bureaucrats and the ultras who charged a hefty fee for providing protection to the illegal operation, say officials.

Sources said the Koda aide admitted that the political establishment received Rs 10 lakh per acre at the time of issue of such a licence (total area extends to over hundreds of acres) while the Naxalites got 20%-30% on each truck of resources taken out of such a mine. The bureaucrats who were supposed to check any illegal activity received 10%-15% of the share of the minerals and the remainder about 50% was the businessmen's share in the loot.

The list of those who benefited from Koda's generosity includes a leading Indian steel manufacturer and a London-based tycoon. Also linked to the nexus are some politicians and bureaucrats who benefited handsomely. As ED estimates Koda & Co's worth in several hundreds of crores in rupees, Maoists, it seems, had benefited equally from the nefarious deals.

Cross-examination of one of the alleged Koda frontman and promoter of Balaji Bullion group of companies Manoj Punamia reveals the latter had been working for many other high-profile people and that Koda was not the only "business" he had in his basket.

His negotiations for an SEZ in Noida worth Rs 4,800 crore, where payment was to be allegedly made in Euros, and his other real estate contracts worth hundreds of crores in UP hint at his wide network across political affiliations and state boundaries. His expertise in managing "entries" and handling high-value cash transactions in banks and through hawala only helped his benefactors to launder big money in India and abroad.

Though Koda remains the prime focus of the investigation by a joint team of the Income Tax and ED, sleuths are also looking at various linkages that have cropped up during the course of investigation. A senior official associated with the probe said several bureaucrats and other politicians can come under the scanner but it is too early to pinpoint anybody. The agency is gathering corroborative evidence against all such people.

The ED has summoned Punamia to Delhi for questioning on November 17 and Koda on November 19. So far, the agency has found no evidence of Punamia and his associates conducting bullion trade as claimed by them, sources said.

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