CBI court sends Vaikundarajan to jail

The case was registered by the CBI on March 1, 2016.

A special CBI court on Monday sentenced S. Vaikundarajan, managing partner of V.V. Minerals, to three years in prison.

The court also sentenced one Subbulakshmi to a three-year jail term and the then Deputy Director of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Neeraj Khatri, to five years in prison in a corruption case.

It imposed a fine of ₹5 lakh each on Vaikundarajan and Khatri, and ₹2 lakh on Subbulakshmi. The company was fined ₹10 lakh.

The three were convicted, along with the company, on February 1, following a trial.

The case was registered by the CBI on March 1, 2016.

The agency had alleged that Khatri, as the then Deputy Director (Scientist-C) in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, accepted ₹4.13 lakh through a bank draft, dated July 3, 2012, in favour of VIT University (Vellore) at the instance of Vaikundarajan. His son, Sidharth, had been admitted to a B. Tech. (mechanical engineering) course of the university, for which the amount was deposited.

In lieu of the bribe, the CBI alleged, Khatri extended favour with respect to a letter submitted by V.V. Minerals’ managing partner on October 15, 2012, to the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, along with a form and a pre-feasibility report, for seeking ‘terms of reference’ for environmental clearance. It pertained to a products-specific (mineral-based) SEZ project over an area of 166.665 hectare at Thiruvambalapuram in Tirunelveli.

The application was submitted in the Ministry’s central registry and marked to the Impact Assessment (IA)-III division. An acknowledgement receipt was given. A copy of the receipt was submitted by the company to the IA-II division, where Khatri was posted. The CBI alleged that the application should have been handled by the IA-III division.

Khatri endorsed the acknowledgement copy with a note: “to be considered in next EAC [Expert Appraisal Committee] meeting (November) urgent”, and marked it to the Section Officer. The agency said enclosures to the letter were incomplete as they did not have Vaikundarajan’s signature at all the required places, while those accompanying the letter to the central registry had his signatures.

The CBI said the air tickets for Khatri and his son — from Delhi to Chennai and his return ticket from Chennai to Delhi — were bought by Subbulakshmi. As it turned out, the company was accorded Coastal Regulation Zone clearance for operations in Tirunelveli during 2005-06. Subbulakshmi was employed as a liaison officer on a contract basis from 2011 to early 2013 to look after the company’s work such as obtaining environmental clearances from government agencies situated outside Tamil Nadu.

In May 2012, the Industries (MIE2) Department of the Secretariat in Chennai, on the company’s application, recommended to the Commerce Ministry the grant of “formal approval” for the establishment of the SEZ.

A copy of the recommendation letter was received by V.V. Minerals, following which it knew that it had to approach the Ministry of Environment and Forests for environmental clearance. The company’s proposal was approved by the Commerce Ministry on July 6, 2012.

The CBI had also submitted in the court that Khatri had earlier been caught while accepting and demanding ₹7 lakh in bribe, which was investigated in another case registered on January 16, 2013.


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