Essar’s former contractor in Dantewada, B K Lala, has decided to turn police approver in the alleged Maoist payoff case and disclose “evidence” against the company’s alleged illegal activities in the Naxal-affected areas.
The case hit headlines last year after the Dantewada police booked the company and its officials for providing financial help to Maoists. A Special Investigation Team is investigating the case and a trial is on in a Dantewada court. Lala’s advocate Rahul Tyagi told The Indian Express: “We got a hint from the prosecution that if he (Lala) becomes an approver, he will be pardoned. So we decided accordingly.”
Lala, the then chief contractor of Essar in the region, was arrested last September when he was allegedly handing over Rs 15 lakh on behalf of the company to Maoists through “conduits” Soni Sori and Lingaram Kodapi.
As the company was accused of paying extortion money to Maoists, Essar GM D V C S Verma was arrested and slapped with sedition charge. Sori and Kodapi are still in jail, while Verma and Lala are out on bail. Essar washed its hands of Lala after the case came to light.
In a recent application before a Dantewada court, Lala claimed to have evidence against top officers of Essar against whom investigation is pending. “The applicant is willing to make a full and true disclosure of the whole circumstances and every other person concerned — owners of Essar company, Sunil Bajaj, Dilip Oomen, AK Banerjee, Babu, Srinivas Rao Chapa.”
These named are among the topmost Essar officials facing investigation. Former Dantewada SP Ankit Garg had earlier described Srinivas Rao as an “absconder”.
Seeking pardon in the case, Lala’s petition said: “Such disclosure and evidence will bring to light the modus operandi and activities of Essar, its owners and employees, and their criminal activities in the Naxal-affected areas.”
Essar has a big plant at Baildadila in Dantewada to supply iron fines through its pipeline to Vishakhapatnam. The second largest slurry pipeline on earth was blasted by Maoists a few years ago and remained damaged for over a year until Lala was appointed the contractor. He got it repaired soon, amid allegations that the company paid money to Maoists. While the company refuted the charges, Garg filed a case against Essar for supporting the Maoists.
About Lala’s role in paying extortion money to Maoists, Tyagi said: “I am not saying he did not commit any crime. I am only saying whatever he did was on the instructions of Essar. But all their officials are out, Lala is made an accused. If he is given pardon, we will reveal everything about the case and Essar’s connections.”
In his application, Lala also claimed to have evidence against NGO Jai Johar Sewa Sansthan and its owner Pawan Dubey. Essar was allegedly routing its money under corporate social responsibility policy in Dantewada region through the NGO. The then SP had said Dubey was also acting as a conduit between the Maoists and Essar.
Essar has strongly refuted the charges as baseless.