Union Minister Subodh Kant Sahay's brave attempt to come clean on allegations that he lobbied with the prime minister to get a coal block for SKS Ispat and Power Limited where his brother Sushir K Sahay signed as director ended up raising more questions than answers. He only managed to bring in the open the issue of public morality which might leave the UPA government embarrassed.
His defence on thin technical grounds that his brother was "not a director but only an honorary executive director" did not wash with reporters as it went contrary to the proof in the documents submitted to the screening committee by the firm.
"Yes, Sudhir Sahay is my brother. He has professional relationship with SKS (Ispat and Power Limited). He is an engineer. He is a consultant. Our concern was for the good of Jharkhand. The company had asked for two coal blocks, while the one in Chhattisgarh was granted, the other in Jharkhand was denied...," the minister told reporters. In his opening statement, Sahay claimed that he had a Delhi High Court verdict which said SKS Ispat and Power was not his family enterprise. He slammed Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley for playing a sinister political game.
Incidentally, Sahay's press conference was held at Constitution Club, not at his office or conference room in Shahtri Bhawan where such official briefings are usually organised. Sources said since it involved an issue which related to him in person so it was his responsibility to clarify it in his personal capacity.
The fact that Sudhir K Sahay attended the coal screening committee meeting on February 7, 2008 for a presentation as director of the SKS Ispat and Power could cause trouble for the minister. Documents in possession of Firstpost reveal that in a letter to the prime minister on 5 February 2008 Sahay sought allocation of coal blocks to a company, which incidentally bore the initials, SKS.
"I would like to bring to your notice that M/S SKS Ispat and power Limited have applied for two coal blocks for their steel plants in Chattisgarh and Jharkhand. A brief note in this regard is enclosed. I shall be grateful for your personal intervention in this matter," Sahay wrote to the prime minister. Next day, on 6 February, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) sent a "most immediate" note signed by a Director, Ashish Gupta, to Coal secretary saying "please find enclosed for action as appropriate a copy of a letter submitted to the Prime Minister by Subodh Kant Sahay, Union Minister of State for Food Processing Industry (Independent Charge) along with a note regarding allotment of two coal blocks to M/S SKS Ispat and Power Limited for their steel plants."
A statement laid on the table of Parliament by the Coal ministry of the list of 145 companies which were allocated 70 coal blocks during period in contention bear the testimony that SKS Ispat and Power Limited was allocated block no. 46 in Fatehpur on 6 February 2008, same day the note was sent from the PMO to the Coal Secretary.
Though Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal put a strong defence for Sahay, saying just because someone is a minister's brother it cannot be a ground to deny him rights to start a power or steel plant some other ministers in the Union Government are not inclined to be as charitable.