“Why Am I in Jail?”

“Where is the evidence against me?,” asks former Jharkhand CM Madhu Koda in the first on-record interview since his arrest.
Interview
“I was arrested, stuffed into jail, and then had cases registered against me.”

Madhu Koda has been in jail for one year and four months on charges of money laundering when he was Chief Minister of Jharkhand between 2006 and 2008. The third ‘independent’ MLA to ever become CM, he is accused of siphoning off Rs 4,000 crore, owning resorts in Goa and Daman, real estate in Dubai, and mines in Thailand and Liberia [he says he didn’t even know Liberia existed]. Open met Koda in his hospital room in the Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences, Ranchi, for the first on-record interview since his arrest. In the course of the interview (see video) in Hindi, he says he was framed in false cases and fixed by corporations—Usha Martin and Tata Steel—because he tried to stop the misuse of mining leases granted to them. Repeated attempts to obtain clarifications from the companies named have been unsuccessful.

In the interview with VK Shashikumar, Koda takes us through the beginning of his political career to the highpoints and his subsequent fall. In his version of how and why he was ‘framed’, he says it was his failure to align with mainstream parties that is responsible for the fact that he continues to languish in jail while others accused in cases such as the 2G and Commonwealth scams have had it far easier. Pointing to the fact that the investigation against him has not been able to find even a fraction of the money he was supposed to have appropriated, he says there is just no evidence to back the charges against him:

Q Your political rise was meteoric…

A I had never imagined that I would be in politics, or even planned to join it. I was involved in a labour movement in mines. We were partly successful in our campaign. We were able to ensure miners got minimum wages and that they were paid OT (overtime) fees as well. A lot of miners benefitted from our movement. Over a period of time, my involvement as an activist fighting for the rights of miners led to the formation of a base of supporters and sympathisers in the organised and unorganised sectors.

Q At that time you weren’t associated with a political party...

A Yes, I wasn’t a member of any political party. But as my activities as a ‘mazdoor andolan’ leader expanded in 1989, mine owners began to view my labour activism adversely. They began lodging false cases against me. I then realised the strategic necessity of continuing my activism under the banner of a political party. That’s when I joined the BJP [in 1994].

Q Were you also with the RSS?

A Yes, I was in touch with them. I was with the BJP, and it is natural that I would be in contact with the RSS.

Q So, when did you decide to contest elections as an independent candidate, and why?

A I was not given a ticket by the BJP [in 2005]. So I decided to contest the polls as an Independent. There was a conspiracy behind the denial of a party ticket to me. A report maligning me was submitted to the party, which became the basis for the denial. The report said that if I contested the elections, I would lose.

Q Why would anyone conspire against you to deny an election ticket?

A There were people in the BJP who were against me, [and] in the local media. Prabhat Khabar published reports against me as well. But I contested the elections and won [from Jaganathpur]. Earlier, in 2000, I successfully contested [from the same constituency] on a BJP ticket. When I won the [2005] election, I realised that my tribal supporters had a lot of expectations. They lived in jungle areas in the mining belt. Also, after Jharkhand became a state, they’d hoped their economic conditions would improve. I had to reorient my political priorities in accordance with their wishes. I understood their aspirations because I was one of them.

Q You were appointed mines minister in Arjun Munda’s cabinet (from 2003 to 2005). What was your policy?

A In Jharkhand, wherever there are mines and minerals, you find poor people. Nearly all of them are tribals. They should get their rights —because the land they live on and forests they live in are rich in mineral resources. They should get adequate compensation and jobs so that their living standards can improve. But they haven’t been able to secure such rights. In my mind I was clear that tribals should get these mandatory economic rights because they have a claim over the mining areas that have been theirs for centuries. Most mining areas coincide with forest areas, and people who live there have direct or indirect traditional rights as original inhabitants and forest dwellers. It is a natural principle that all benefits accruing from the natural resources of the land on which tribals have lived for centuries, must be shared with them for their progress and development. That is why I had framed a policy wherein cooperative societies of tribals would be formed to enable them to set up mining operations of minor minerals on a priority basis.

Q Was this policy ever implemented?

A They (the government) did not allow the policy to be implemented. No government, whether of the BJP or otherwise, wanted to implement this policy. They thought Madhu Koda will become a popular tribal politician, if implemented.

There was another issue about royalty on major minerals that should be made available for tribal development. As CM, I made a policy on major minerals. The thought behind it was that mine owners should pay a royalty on the major minerals they mine, for tribal development. But this policy was also thwarted.

I also wanted to implement a resettlement and rehabilitation policy. But even this was disallowed. We (the government and mining industry) buy tribal land for peanuts, displace tribals from their original habitat, and then forget about them. There is no one to understand their sad plight. At a time when, through mining and industrial development, tribals should actually be progressing and raising their standard of living, we find them being displaced and becoming poorer.

If we had implemented these three policies, Jharkhand would have witnessed more investments. Tell me, aren’t power projects and investments bypassing Jharkhand now? Some industrial houses did not like my policies.

Q As mines minister (2003–2005) you had issued notices to Tata Steel and Usha Martin that they were selling iron ore from captive mines leased to them…

A Yes, I had issued notices to these companies. Industries are allotted captive mining leases on the basis of an agreement with the government that the ore mined from these mines would be consumed in plants or factories located within the state. But Tata and Usha Martin violated the agreement and were selling the ore to other industries and buyers outside the state, earning huge profits. That is why my government issued ‘show cause’ notices to these companies. So, Tata and Usha Martin were upset with me and my policy directives. Tata was supplying iron ore to Usha Martin. That is why I think they have played a major role in what has happened to me over the last two years. I believe that these companies were behind the cases against me and the campaign to defame me.

Q What triggered this? What was the starting point?

A There are some industrial houses that want the mines and minerals of Jharkhand to become their exclusive property. They want all mineral resources to be under their control. This forceful assertion is not good for the state and country. This desire to have monopoly control over natural resources, which are actually national resources, is not good for economic and industrial development. It should be open to competition, to enable other companies to set up mining operations and industries in Jharkhand too.

But Usha Martin wanted a larger share of the mining pie and had proposed a joint venture (JV) with Jharkhand State Mineral Development Corporation (JSMDC). They wanted to take over all the JSMDC mines through this indirect route of forging a JV. They were desperately pushing the JV file, despite a Jharkhand High Court order [disallowing the JV]. I was firm that I would not take any decision that violated the law, and so I rejected the file proposing the JV. Since that day, Madhu Koda was designated as an enemy of

Usha Martin because he had rejected the company’s JV proposal. This is the behind-the-scenes reason for my troubles and for the cases registered against me.

Q When did this happen?

A In 2008, when the company [Usha Martin] approached me for permission for the JV [with JSMDC], I turned down their request because I felt it was not in the interest of the state and country. The company indirectly wanted to control all the mines, whether coal or iron ore, owned by JSMDC.

Q So you are saying this triggered your ‘impleadment’ in the PIL on the disproportionate assets case filed against several other politicians in 2008?

A No evidence of disproportionate assets was submitted to back the PIL. A newspaper cutting from Prabhat Khabar was all that was submitted. Unverified newspaper reports were submitted as evidence without any official enquiry or investigation. Cases were registered against me and have been going on for the past two years without any evidence being presented in court. There are four agencies investigating me—Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate, CBI and the State Vigilance. What is the accusation against me? That Madhu Koda has looted and laundered Rs 4,000 crore… The intention behind such an allegation was to destroy my public image completely.

This was a pre-planned move against me to ensure that the government, court, investigating agencies and public become biased against me. There are four agencies probing the Rs 4,000 crore… Where is that money? Why haven’t they found it? Why haven’t they been able to prove these allegations? I believe they haven’t been able to trace even 10 per cent of the sum that I have allegedly laundered. How is this possible? 

I have been framed in a conspiracy hatched against me by people who were upset with my decisions [as CM]. I would like to say this: if I have looted Rs 4,000 crore, then this money should surely be somewhere… I am told that I bought mines in other countries.

Q In Thailand and Liberia...

A Yes, that I allegedly have mines in Thailand and Liberia. That I own a resort in Goa and Daman. That I have made huge investments in Dubai’s real estate. Isn’t the CBI investigating all of these allegations? Why haven’t they been able to find anything in two years? For the last one year and two months [the interview was on 25 January], I am in jail, and I have been cooperating with the investigation teams.

For the past year, there is a case against me in court. Isn’t three-four months, a year, enough for investigating agencies to probe and submit their reports? Will I continue to remain in jail for the rest of my life without anything proven against me? How long will I be in jail and how much more time will the agencies take to provide evidence of any wrongdoing on my part? Isn’t there a limit? Shouldn’t the investigation of all agencies be time-bound? Some industrial houses have conspired to frame me in baseless and unproven allegations.

Q Why don’t you name them?

A Certainly, Usha Martin is involved. Tata Steel is indirectly involved. Their involvement is invisible, but one can understand and experience their reach. I am certain about this. Some political parties are also supporting this conspiracy because they want to finish the public life and political career of Madhu Koda. Despite being an independent MLA, I rose to become the CM. In my area, I had enormous mass support. All of this was viewed adversely and as a threat by some political parties.

Q Do you regret being an ‘independent’ politician? Would you have been protected if you belonged to a political party?

A Yes, I do regret the fact that I am an ‘independent’ politician. Look at the big scams of 2010. Has any politician been arrested? Has anything happened to Raja in the 2G scam? What happened to the Commonwealth Games scam? Politicians are walking around freely. You see for yourself. What about the Adarsh building scam? On the other hand, I was not even given a chance to defend myself, to stand up for myself and give my version. I was arrested, stuffed into jail, and then had cases registered against me.

Q How were you arrested?

A I was campaigning for the 2009 [Assembly] polls. During that phase, I received a notice to appear before the ED on 4 December [since, on 10 October 2009, he had been charged with laundering Rs 4,000 crore]. But I was tricked and arrested four days earlier, on 30 November.

Q Didn’t you have an offer to join the Congress?

A Yes, there was an offer to join the Congress. But this offer could not materialise because there were vested interests lined up against me. The party’s local politicians were unsettled with all the talk of my intention to join them. They felt that if Madhu Koda joined, their political fortunes would be short-lived.

Q So, are you basically saying that you wanted tribals to benefit from mining operations in Jharkhand, but some companies operating in the state were against this? That’s why, you say, you were fixed?

A Yes, absolutely. I am a tribal, and I did want tribals to take advantage of the abundant mineral resources available in their habitat. Coal, iron ore, bauxite and other mineral wealth is buried in forests and mountains. Who lives there? Primitive tribals. So if there are mining operations, these tribals get displaced. Where should these tribals go when they lose their land? The land that contains the country’s mineral wealth is also home to India’s tribals. That is their source of sustenance. If their land goes, how will they survive? That is why I tried to frame policies to give tribals more and more rights to exploit the mineral wealth through tribal cooperative societies. But my approach was disliked by industries, companies and industrialists. That is why a conspiracy was hatched to defame me and finish my political career. It was a well-planned character assassination campaign. They wanted to immobilise Madhu Koda so that he dares not return to politics ever again.

Q Agencies investigating you allege that you would take money in lieu of mining leases and then funnel the money through front companies.

A No, this isn’t true. Any recommendation for mining leases is ultimately approved by the Central Government. If I have indulged in any wrongdoing, then it should be evident in the files. Has anybody said that I signed off mining leases without following the due process as laid down by law? All the allegations against me are hearsay. There is no evidence against me except for newspaper reports. I do not have any front company, whether through direct or indirect ownership. I am not a director or shareholder or managing director of any company. I am not involved in anything like this. There are allegations that I have benami investments. If that is true, then the agencies should identify the benami investments and seize them. I have submitted all my proof of investments to the Income Tax probe team.

Q So, are all the official probes against you part of a frame-up?

A The group that is against me first created hype that I had looted the exchequer of Rs 4,000 crore during my tenure. They were successful in turning the investigating agencies against me by creating a bias through accusations of money laundering and corruption. About 150 raids were conducted across the country in my name. Even the IT department issued a statement claiming that several hundred crore of rupees were recovered during raids conducted in my name and on establishments owned by me. If that is true, why doesn’t the IT department make the evidence public? Is there any proof of my investment in any company or transaction with any company? There is no proof against me, and yet I am in jail.

The idea was to sustain the hype against me by using the media to keep the focus on my alleged swindling of Rs 4,000 crore without anybody asking any questions or demanding proof and corroboration of the claims being made by the IT department and ED. There is no shred of evidence against me and nothing has been proven yet. Also, isn’t it strange that there were five other politicians against whom the PIL was originally filed? My name was added in the PIL later on. But why am I in jail while all other politicians named in the original PIL roam free?

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(VK Shashikumar is affiliated with Three Headed Lion Research & Information Services—Mediagrove)