CBI raid fallout: MoEF puts on hold select mining projects

In the wake of the CBI raid implicating an officer of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in arranging green clearances for certain mining projects in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, the ministry has for now put on hold all projects associated with the implicated consultant.

Sources said a limestone mining project of Chariot Steel & Power located at village Raiboga in Sundergarh district has already been put on hold. The CBI had on January 16 recovered Rs 1.04 crore from a MoEF deputy director. He was arrested for allegedly accepting a bribe of Rs 7 lakh to arrange environmental clearance for an Orissa-based power and steel company.

The official, identified as Neeraj Khatri, 45, was reportedly found to own properties worth Rs 5 crore in the national capital region. The alleged middleman, Rai Sri Chinmaya Srichandan, had also been arrested.

In a meeting held on January 17, the MoEF Expert Appraisal Committee (on coal mining) discussed the CBI raid in detail. It decided that all projects, especially in Orissa, related in any way to the implicated consultant and any involvement with the CBI investigation should be put on hold. Environment Secretary V Rajagopalan is learnt to have sought a departmental report on the matter. However, the EAC agreed to consider two projects of the state government PSUs.

According to CBI officials, Srichandan owns S S Environics, a Bhubaneswar-based consultant firm that allegedly lobbied for environment clearance for Chariot Steel and Power Private Limited's Raiboga limestone mine in Orissa.

The matter was scheduled to be discussed by the reconstituted EAC the next day. Khatri is alleged to have taken bribes for arranging clearances for private mining companies in Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in the past too.

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