'The sale has violated the law'

Published : Mar 17, 2001 00:00 IST

Interview with Chief Minister Ajit Jogi.

The issue of the sale of Balco has put Chattisgarh Chief Minister Ajit Jogi in the limelight. Jogi has alleged that Balco's assets have been grossly undervalued and that kickbacks have found their way into Swiss bank accounts. He denies that the Chattisg arh government was consulted about the deal. Jogi's strident position on the affair has roused hopes in the employees of Balco that his government will support them in their battle to reverse the sale of the company. The Chief Minister spoke to V. Sridha r at Balco Nagar in Korba on March 5 soon after addressing a large public meeting where he announced his support to the employees. Jogi, a former officer of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), explained at length his perception of how the deal has v iolated the provisions of Union and State legislation. Excerpts from the interview:

What are the reasons for your opposition to the privatisation of Balco?

I have posed several questions to the Union government. The deal is against the aspirations of the people of Chattisgarh. The deal is against the interests of the workers. It is also against the kind of disinvestment process that the Congress(I) stands f or. This is not a transparent deal. There have been huge kickbacks.

Are you opposing the disinvestment because the price is not right or because you are against privatising the company?

Per se, we are never against privatisation. We are all for economic reforms, but there has to be a way in which disinvestment ought to be done. The Balco sale is neither necessary nor transparent. We are not in favour of disinvestment of controlli ng stake in profit-making public sector companies.

The Balco sale has come about despite the opposition of the Chattisgarh government. What issues relating to federal relations in the Indian Union have been raised by this deal for this newly-formed, backward and predominantly tribal State?

This is a body blow to the federal spirit of the Constitution of India. A very important public sector unit located in a nascent State has been sold by the Union government without bothering to consult the Chief Minister of the State. Now Mr. Arun Shouri e (Union Minister for Disinvestment) repeatedly says that we have been consulted. He is telling a white genteel lie. This is a blatant lie. I was never consulted. They may have consulted the State of Madhya Pradesh before November (Chattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh in November 2000). That does not mean that they have consulted the State of Chattisgarh.

I have known Mr. Shourie so well. Nothing need have stopped him from talking to me and taking me into confidence when such a big deal was being struck. It was done surreptitiously. The Union government thought Chattisgarh was a new, four-month-old tribal State, it would not protest. They thought they could bulldoze and steamroll their way, and do what they liked. But they are sadly mistaken. I have a mandate from the people of the State and from my supreme leader, Shrimati Sonia Gandhi, to fight for the rights of the people here. That is why I have taken the stand I have.

The Balco disinvestment is the first decisive sale of a large profit-making public sector company. How do you view the fact that the process has begun in Chattisgarh?

I think the sale has a great historic significance. If the workers of Balco and the people of Chattisgarh succeed (in overturning the Balco sale), it will certainly give a correct direction to the process of disinvestment and economic reforms in India. I am sure and I have always believed that no power on earth can go against the wishes of the people.

Does your support to the workers' agitation stop at the moral level or will you use state power within reasonable democratic limits to protect the interests of the workers and the State?

I cannot possibly be a part of the agitation. I cannot be leading the agitation. My sympathies are with the workers who are agitating. I would like to see them continue their struggle in a peaceful manner, without taking the law into their hands. So long as they do that, my moral support will continue to be with them. The law of the land requires me to protect their interests. According to the assessment of our revenue authorities, the law has been violated...

Can you elaborate on how this has happened?

There have been three ways in which the Balco sale has violated the law of the land. First, at the time of Balco's inception, the land was acquired from the local tribal people living on the land in Korba. Sections 170 a), b) and c) read with Section 165 , sub-section 6 of the Madhya Pradesh Land Revenue Code 1959 which governs the area in which Balco is situated, have been violated. The law says that when tribal land is alienated, it must be restored to them (tribal people). In this case, Balco, a publi c sector undertaking, was established on land belonging to the tribal people. When the land was acquired from them, it was said that the land was needed for the activities of a public sector undertaking for a public purpose. The moment it is no longer a public sector unit, its character changes: it becomes a private entity. The land which belonged to tribal people has been transferred to a non-tribal entity. And per se, this is illegal. Quite correctly, the authority concerned, the Sub-Divisional Office r (Civil), Korba, issued notices to Pradeep Baijal, Secretary, Union Disinvestment Ministry, and Anil Agarwal, chairman of Sterlite Industries who is now the so-called owner of Balco. They must appear in his court or he will restore the land to the triba l people or their heirs-apparent.

Second, the Balco sale has violated provisions of the Land Acquisition Act (a Central Act), which lays down procedures to be followed for the compulsory acquisition of land. The land that is now with Balco was acquired under Sections 4 and 6 of the Act. When the government sought to acquire the land, it stated that this land was required for a public purpose. Now, Section 44 a) of the same Act says that if the public purpose for which the land was acquired ceases to exist, then the land must be given ba ck to the person or the authority from which it was taken.

Third, a historic judgment of the Supreme Court, known as the Samatha Judgment (Samatha vs the State of Andhra Pradesh and others, decided in 1996 and reported in 1997), has implications for the Balco sale. The judgment said that in Schedule V areas (areas that are mentioned as tribal areas in the Constitution), no factory, no establishment, no mining activity, no industrial activity, can be undertaken by a private person. Such activity can only be done by tribal people, or a cooperative society of tribal people or by a government undertaking - not by private entities. The Balco sale is a clear violation of the Supreme Court judgment that laid down a principle of law - that no private entity can get a mining lease or start an industry in areas mentioned in Schedule V. That means that Mr. Anil Agarwal does not have a right to run Balco in a Schedule V area. He does not have the right to get a mining lease in such an area. I think someone - some tribal person - from this area will surely go to court on this.

Is the Congress(I), which appears to be divided - between the Ajit Jogi and V.C. Shukla camps - in a position to take on the challenge in this issue?

The party is not at all divided. The party has a supreme leader in Sonia Gandhi and she has unified us. V.C. Shukla is a respected leader of the party. He is also with the Balco workers in their struggle.

You have alleged that the Balco deal has resulted in kickbacks, which have gone into Swiss bank accounts...

If they (the Union government) have the moral courage, they must institute a probe by a joint parliamentary committee (JPC), and we undertake to prove what we have alleged. The circumstances of the deal speak for themselves. How can property valued at Rs .6,000-7,000 crores be sold for Rs.551 crores? They claim that they floated global tenders. How come there were just two bids for Balco? Of these two bids only one was above the reserve price. How can these be explained?

Arun Shourie has offered to place all the relevant documents relating to the deal before the Comptroller and Auditor-General (CAG).

Documents, committees, Comm-ittee of Secretaries, Group of Ministers... All these are just bureaucratic jargon. All the manipulation is done through these mechanisms. In this case, the mechanism has been used to receive kickbacks.

You have named some people in the Prime Minister's Office...

Everybody in Delhi is talking about this. The high and mighty sitting in (names a hotel)..., an extra-constitutional authority, is the prime beneficiary in this deal. There are also other beneficiaries. Everybody in Delhi is talking about this. I have me ntioned in the Vidhan Sabha names of people involved in the deal. If there is a proper forum where I am assured that justice will be done, I am certainly willing to reveal all the evidence that I have.

What could these forums be?

Either a JPC or a judicial inquiry. I do not think there is any other forum where justice will be done.

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