Planting questions in Parl?

Ensuring favourable reports in newspapers is not just what Essar did but it also tried its hand in “planting” questions in Parliament, according to leaked emails, which are part of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in Supreme Court.

The PIL, filed by lawyer Prashant Bhushan on behalf of Centre for Public Interest Litigation, said it appeared that the “serious crime” of raising questions in Parliament at the behest of corporates is still a “sad reality”.

One of the emails claimed that a senior Essar Vice President met the then Congress MP Jagdambika Pal, who is now a BJP MP in Lok Sabha, on April 20, 2012 “regarding Parliament question on NMDC (National Mineral Development Corporation)”.

A search of Lok Sabha website did not throw up any questions against the Pal between April 24, 2012 and May 22, 2012 on the issue during the second leg of Budget session of that year.

It appears that Essar and others had run into trouble with NMDC on increasing prices. The email exchanges also showed how a report was planted in the media by Essar on which Parliamentary question was planted, the PIL claimed.

“It is one thing to get MPs to ask a question in Parliament in public interest. People can do it. But it becomes an issue if the MP is doing it for pecuniary benefits or to benefit a corporate. So this needs investigation,” Bhushan told Deccan Herald.

Parliament was rocked in 2005 after a sting operation showed 11 MPs from various parties taking money for asking questions. All of them were expelled from Parliament.

According to an entry in the Monthly Information System report on August 27, 2012, it was recorded that “planted Parliamentary questions regarding arbitrary pricing mechanism of NMDC, which are expected to be answered on the floor the House on August 27 and September 3”.

Interestingly, a website search of Lok Sabha website showed that on September 3, 2012, at least two questions were raised on NMDC. One was on the appointment of NMDC Chairman, including whether prescribed procedure and criteria has been followed and whether CVC clearance was taken. Another was a query about NMDC earning huge profits by resorting to monopolistic pricing in an arbitrary manner and passing on the burden towards the end users while benefiting the private iron ore producers.

An August 27 question was on NMDC’s expansion plans.

The emails showed that Essar officials met several MPs and leaders from parties ranging from Congress, BJP, BJD, BSP, RLD, CPI(M), Forward Bloc and Samajwadi Party as part of “cultivating relations” though all may not be related to asking questions.

INFOGRAPHICS –Corporates’ Intelligence Collection

— The Daily Calling Report showed how corporates collected intelligence about developments in ministries.

— One of the Essar officials informed his seniors on April 20, 2012 that the then Coal Secretary would be going to PMO with all files of coal blocks, which were allotted, from 2009 onwards at 6 PM that day.

— It also said that Coal Ministry in the process of issuing show cause notices to all coal block allottees where the development work has not taken place.

(An edited version appeared in Deccan Herald on Mar 2, 2015)

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