iconimg Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Chetan Chauhan and Rajesh Ahuja, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, January 17, 2013
Arrest of a multi-millionaire deputy director Neeraj Kumar Khatri has apparently blown the lid of what could possibly be a scam involving clearances in the environment ministry.

The CBI on Thursday found Rs. 1 crore in cash from Khatri’s homes in Gurgaon and Rohtak, a day after he was arrested on charges of accepting a bribe of Rs. 7 lakh from alleged middlemen of Orissa based company for placing a limestone project for consideration of ministry’s expert appraisal committee.

In all, Khatri owns four properties in posh locations in Haryana, say investigators.

The CBI is also investigating the possibility of involvement of other senior officials of the ministry.

Environment minister Jaynathi Natarajan, however, described his arrest as an “aberration” and assured of strong action against him or anyone else found involved in corrupt practices.

“The projects are examined by a committee of independent experts in a transparent manner and there are adequate checks and balances,” she told HT.

Environment secretary V Rajagopalan had sought a report from the bureau to initiate action against Khatri and others involved in the alleged corruption practice.

However, old hands in the ministry admit of corruption in the clearance process in the ministry.

“It is not easy to get a project listed for consideration of the Expert Appraisal Committee or Forest Advisory Committee without making a consideration in cash or kind,” a person, who had been a senior official in the ministry, said, adding that placing a project before the committee is discretion of the ministry officials.

Corruption does not end there. Once the committee submits its recommendation, getting the clearance letter from the ministry is also not easy.

“One has to appease guys there to know what is happening to the file,” said a senior functionary with a mining company.

Natarajan had earlier transferred then inspector general of forests CD Singh on charges of corruption and in-charge of Bhopal regional office AK Raina for circumventing rules to grant forest clearance. However, no criminal action was initiated against despite documentary evidence.

The ministry deals primarily deals with four types of approvals – environment, forest, coastal and clean development mechanism (CDM).

Since his appointment in the ministry in 2005, Khatri had spent most of his tenure in project approvals ranging from dams to river cleaning projects to clean development mechanism.