Ready to probe Bengal’s Metro Dairy disinvestment, CBI tells high court
KOLKATA: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Tuesday told the Calcutta high court that, if ordered, it can probe the West Bengal government’s sale of its 47% stake in Metro Dairy to the project’s sole private partner which, a short while later, transferred 15% of its shares to a Singapore-based firm for a much higher price.
This is the only disinvestment made by the Mamata Banerjee government since 2011 when the Trinamool Congress (TMC) first came to power.
The division bench of chief justice Prakash Shrivastava and justice Indra Prasanna Mukerji was hearing a petition filed by West Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in 2018, demanding a probe by a central agency into what he alleged was a scam.
Metro Dairy was established in 1991 as a public-private venture. The state-run West Bengal Milk Producers Federation had 47 % stake, the Centre-run National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) had 10% and the remaining 43% was owned by Keventer Agro Ltd. NDDB later sold its entire stake to Keventer. In 2017, the state government approved the sale of the remaining 47% in an auction. Keventer was the only one to bid.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) started an investigation in 2019 and questioned officials of Keventer Agro Ltd, the project’s sole private partner at the time of the sale, and at least four Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers working for the state government. It is unclear what the outcome of this probe was.
After hearing the petitioner and CBI on Tuesday, the two-judge bench ordered all parties, including the state government and Keventer Agro, to file affidavits by December 10 and said the final hearing will take place on December 16, according to lawyer Pratip Kumar Chatterjee, who represented Chowdhury.
Chowdhury’s petition says that in August 2017, the Bengal cabinet approved the sale of the government’s entire 47% stake in Metro Dairy Ltd to Keventer Agro Ltd for around ₹85 crore. Keventer sold 15% of its shares to a Singapore-based company for around ₹135 crore a few weeks after becoming the company’s sole owner.
Chowdhury alleged in his petition that the government, which set up the company with public money, suffered a loss of at least ₹500 crore by selling its stakes to Keventer at a very low price.
Registered in Kolkata, Metro Dairy Ltd has an authorized share capital of Rs.160,000,000 and paid-up capital of Rs. 61,276,000, the company’s website said on Tuesday.
Chowdhury said, “People of Bengal have the right to know why the state sold its shares at such low price. Who decided on this price? There was corruption at every level of this deal. I want a probe by a neutral agency.”
BJP national vice-president Dilip Ghosh seconded Chowdhury. “This should be probed by the CBI,” he said.
West Bengal government officials refused to speak on this issue.
TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said, “At a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party is demanding a CBI probe into every minor incident in Bengal just to keep Mamata Banejee under pressure, Chowdhury is helping it. The government will give details of the sale to the court.”
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