A Special CBI court on Monday sentenced S Vaikundarajan, managing partner of Chennai-based VV Minerals, to three years imprisonment, one Subbulakshmi to three years and the then Deputy Director with the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Neeraj Khatri, to five years’ imprisonment in a corruption case.

The court also imposed a fine of ₹5 lakh on Vaikundarajan, ₹2 lakh on Subbulakshmi and ₹5 lakh on Khatri. The company has been fined ₹10 lakh. The three were convicted along with the company on February 1, in the case that was registered by the CBI on March 1, 2016.

The agency had accused that Khatri, as the then Deputy Director (Scientist-C) in the MoEF, accepted ₹4.13 lakh via a bank draft dated July 3, 2012, in favour of VIT University (Vellore) at the instance of Vaikundarajan. His son, Sidharth, had taken admission in a BTech (mechanical engineering) course of the university, for which the amount was deposited.

Terms of Reference

In lieu of the bribe, the CBI alleged, Khatri extended favour with respect to a letter submitted by VV Minerals’ managing partner on October 15, 2012, to the Secretary, MoEF, along with a form and a pre-feasibility report for seeking “Terms of Reference” for environmental clearance. It pertained to a products specific (mineral-based) 166-hectare SEZ project in the Thiruvambalapuram village of Tirunelveli.

The application was submitted in the Ministry’s central registry and marked to Impact Assessment (IA)-III division, for which an acknowledgement was given. A copy of the acknowledgement was submitted by the company to IA-II section, where Khatri was posted. The CBI alleged that the application should have been handled by the IA-III division. Khatri endorsed the acknowledgement copy with a note: “to be considered in next EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee) meeting (November) urgent” and marked the same to the Section Officer. The agency said enclosures to the letter were incomplete as they did not have Vaikundarajan’s signatures at all the required places, while those accompanying the letter to the central registry had his signatures.

As it turned out, the company was accorded Coastal Regulation Zone clearance for operations in Tirunelveli in 2005-06. Subbulakshmi was employed as a liaison officer for obtaining environmental clearances from government agencies situated outside Tamil Nadu. In May 2012, the Industries (MIE2) Department of the Secretariat in Chennai, on the company’s application, recommended to the Commerce Ministry, for the grant of “formal approval” for the setting up of SEZ.