Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has alleged on the floor of Delhi Assembly that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was paid Rs 25 crore as bribe by the Aditya Birla Group while he was serving as the chief minister of Gujarat in 2012.
According to a report in International Business Times, Kejriwal showed some documents and a laptop seized during the Income Tax raid at the Birla Group in 2013 during which huge stash of unaccounted cash was also recovered. The documents, the Delhi Chief Minster told the house, suggested certain payments were made to the "Gujarat CM" and the investigation agencies were brushing it under the carpet. "For the first time in the history of independent India, a sitting prime minister's name has come up in black money transactions," the report quoted Kejriwal as saying in the Assembly. He also alleged that the Congress, who was at the helm in the Centre, also chose to keep mum.
Kejriwal has alleged serious graft charges against the prime minister at a time when he claims his government is waging a war against corruption.
In a surprise move, the prime minister in his address to the nation on 8 November, announced that all Rs 500 and 1,000 currency notes will no longer be legal tender, sending the entire nation into a scurry to exchange old currency. The move has gathered much flak, with the opposition alleging that it is inconvenient to the common people who are struggling to make even day-to-day paltry payments. While the congress party termed the move insensitive, Kejriwal alleged that Modi had selectively leaked the information to his "friends" who have already parked their wealth elsewhere.
These fresh allegations, if proved, can severely hurt the Modi government, which rode to power in 2014 on the anti-corruption wave against the Congress. The BJP, however, has denied all charges stating that it shows Kejriwal's "mental bankruptcy and nervousness" over the popularity of the move to fight black money, reported The Indian Express.
These allegations were made on the day when senior advocate and former AAP leader Prashant Bhushan filed a petition in the Supreme Court alleging a cover-up in the case which could have implicated prominent BJP and Congress leaders.
Bhushan had initially filed the writ petition in 2015, alleging a lack of proper probe in the seized documents which hint that massive payments could have been made between 2012-14 to prominent politicians. He then filed a fresh application on Tuesday, alleging that the Central vigilance Commissioner, KV Chowdhary failed to pursue the probe in his previous job when he was heading the Income Tax department, according to a report in The Wire.
What are Birla Papers?
According to a report in The Hindu, when the CBI was probing the coal block allocations to the Aditya Birla Group, certain raids were conducted in which incriminating documents were recovered apart from a huge stash of unaccounted money. The CBI, however, did not launch a probe for uncited reasons and simply forwarded the reports and proofs to the I-T department. "Instead of examining the contents of the highly incriminating documents, the CBI simply transferred all the documents to Income Tax Department, though the documents showed corruption, bribery, black money, disproportionate assets, and also income tax violations," The Hindu quoted Bhushan's complaint.
Another report in The Hindu, states that some notes and a laptop seized from Shubhendu Amitabh, the then Group Executive President of Adtiya Birla Management Corporation Pvt. Ltd. (ABMCPL), mention a payment of Rs 12 crore to "Gujarat CM."
‘Gujarat CM-25 cr (12 Done-rest?),’ read the note according to the report.
However, The Indian Express report states that Amitabh said the note was for personal consumption and referred to a group company Gujarat Alkali Chemicals. But when Amitabh was asked to disclose whether he or any other company official had referred to Gujarat Alkali Chemicals as Gujarat CM in the past, he evaded a direct reply. The Hindu report also quotes an I-T report that states that an enquiry is imperative in the case because of Amitabh's "evasive replies and unsubstantiated claims."
The documents, according to the report in The Wire, "revealed that a payment of Rs 7.08 crore was made during the period from 09.01.2012 to 02.02.2012 under the heading ‘Project-J-Environment & Forest’". The article further adds that around 13 projects of the Aditya Birla Group were cleared by the then Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan, in the UPA-II government led by the Congress party.
It is interesting to note here that feathers were ruffled on the question of environmental clearances during Natarajan's tenure earlier as well. She was sacked as a minister in a sudden move, as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi perpetually accused her of creating bottlenecks for certain important projects, according to this report in The Times of India. She then resigned from the Congress in February 2015, alleging that Rahul Gandhi interfered in decision making during her tenure and "used her as a scapegoat when he wanted to be friendly with the industrialists," according to a report in The Hindu.
In absence of a CBI probe, the Birlas have filed three petitions in the Settlement Commission for settling the alleged tax irregularities, according to The Indian Express, but these enquiries will not cover the graft charges, if any.