Close to four years after the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi quipped, “We’ve heard of income tax, sales tax, commercial tax in the past, but this is the first time we are hearing of a Jayanthi tax,” the CBI raided the Chennai residence of Jayanthi Natarajan, former union environment minister. The CBI claimed she conspired with a corporate firm to clear the diversion of forest land for a steel plant in Jharkhand. She had approved the project despite her predecessor Jairam Ramesh spiking it twice.
The otherwise combative Congress spokesperson had resigned in a huff from the Manmohan Singh-led UPA-II government after a terse directive from party president Sonia Gandhi in December 2013. A day after she quit, Rahul Gandhi stuck the knife in deeper at a FICCI conference, saying: “I am aware of the frustration with environmental clearances. Rent-seeking and blocking projects are wrong.”
His reference to “rent-seeking” was clearly targeted against Jayanthi. There were allegations that all MoEF files were brought to Chennai for clearance. Media reports at that time claimed over 100 files were recovered from her Chennai house after she resigned. Lending credence to Modi’s Jayanthi tax charge, former commerce minister Anand Sharma was quoted as saying, “top industry leaders told me at a closed-door meeting in the presence of secretaries that files have to be taken to Chennai where one OSD would clear them.
There were serious complaints against her.” Sharma’s disclosures came a year later, after an angry Jayanthi chose to leave the party. In her parting shot, she laid the responsibility for delaying clearance of files at Sonia’s and Rahul’s doorstep saying her decisions were based on directives from their office.
That the CBI raid came years after she demitted office is an indication of how the justice delivery system crawls in India. Even if Jayanthi were half as intelligent as we know she is, there would hardly be any evidence left to collect on her premises now. Who will have the last laugh?