‘They’ve picked the wrong person to bully!’

A feisty opposition woman member of India’s Parliament has vowed to continue her scrutiny of the links between PM Narendra Modi and the Adani Group, despite attacks on her by a government member. Mahua Moitra has been dragged before the parliamentary Ethics Committee for alleged misdemeanours. She has responded defiantly, saying the BJP has picked the ‘wrong person’ to bully. Many of her questions in parliament pertain to Adani’s business operations. A hearing of the Committee on 2 November became a shambles when several members objected to the allegedly partisan and disrespectful way in which it was conducted and walked out.

Mahua Moitra is a member of the opposition Trinamool Congress party. She has been vociferous in her criticism of the Modi government for not acting on allegations of business malpractices by the Adani Group, and has now found herself the subject of accusations by a government politician. The BJP MP who has accused her of accepting bribes from an Adani business rival is Nishikant Dubey, who was elected in the Godda area, where the Adani Group has established a coal-based power plant to export electricity to Bangladesh. The Godda power plant is widely believed to be the final destination of coal from Adani’s Carmichael mine in Australia and has been the subject of local and international campaigns.

Dubey alleged that, in exchange for ‘cash’ and ‘gifts’, Moitra raised questions in Parliament to seek information ‘for protecting or perpetuating’ the business interests of Darshan Hiranandani, a second-generation real-estate magnate belonging to the Hiranandani Group of companies who is based in Dubai. Moitra is adamant that Dubey has produced no evidence to substantiate these allegations.

The complaint was referred to parliament’s Ethics Committee, a meeting of which on 2 November dissolved in acrimony when several MPs walked out in protest at the way in which it was conducted.

Moitra, an investment-banker-turned-politician who was elected to India’s lower house of Parliament (the Lok Sabha) in 2019 from Krishnanagar in the state of West Bengal, has not only refuted the allegations but has also steadfastly refused to buckle under pressure on her to keep quiet about Adani’s business practices. On 21 October, she said: ‘Sorry Mr. Adani. I am not taking your deal to shut up for six months in return for “peace”. And nor am I taking the second deal where I am allowed to attack you but not the PM.’

Moitra further responded: ‘Also got message about impending CBI raid. I am busy with Durga Puja. I invite CBI to come home & count my pairs of shoes.’ (21 October 2023)

CBI stands for the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s premier crime investigation agency. Durga Puja is a popular festival in India, especially in West Bengal.

In a recent interview, Moitra had this to say: ‘You think that if you’re one of only 10 people or 20 people in a country of 1.4 billion to stand up against this prime minister and this fascist government, to stand up against Mr Adani, who’s perpetrating the largest con job on the people of this country, there’s not going to be smear campaigns, slur campaigns?

‘You think that if they had this much against me [showing a narrow gap between thumb and index finger], they wouldn’t have put me in jail by now? They could only drag me to the ethics committee – is that the best they can do?

‘They’ve picked the wrong person to bully… And I want to assure the millions of Indians out there who look to me and who look to the few of us who are fighting the good fight that nothing will bow us down.’

The Adani Group issued a statement on 16 October saying that the episode corroborated its stand that ‘some groups and individuals have been working overtime to harm our [Adani Group’s] name, goodwill and market standing’. The statement went on to say that the ‘complaint reveals that this arrangement to besmirch the reputation of the Adani Group and our Chairman Mr Gautam Adani has been in place since 2018.’

Adani’s statement did not attempt to refute the numerous allegations that Moitra has levelled against the group, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Moitra’s questions on Adani

According to an analysis by the news website Newslaundry, Moitra has raised 62 questions in the Lok Sabha: nine of these questions pertained to the Adani Group.

Five of the Adani-related questions pertained to the business conglomerate’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal alongside the Bay of Bengal in the eastern state of Odisha. The terminal, with a peak-rated capacity of 6.5 million tonnes per annum, is located within Dhamra Port in Odisha that is operated by Adani.

In the first question she raised after being elected to the Lok Sabha, Moitra asked the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas if the central government-owned Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) had dropped its plan to develop a storage project at the Paradip port in Odisha, which is quite close to Dhamra. She further asked in the same query whether GAIL and another public sector entity, which is one of the country’s biggest government-owned companies, the Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL), had entered into an agreement with a ‘private entity’ to obtain 38% and 11% stakes, respectively, in Dhamra Port.

Dhamra Port, a wholly-owned subsidiary of an entity that is part of the Adani Group, has entered into a 34-year lease agreement with the Odisha state government. The ministry said in its response that the storage terminal proposed in Paradip Port had been dropped as it would not be economically viable to have two LNG terminals in proximity with each other.

In the winter session of the Parliament in 2019, Moitra again asked questions to the Petroleum Ministry. She asked whether IOCL or GAIL had signed a tolling agreement with the Adani-owned Dhamra LNG Terminal for 4.5 million tonnes per annum at the price of ‘Rs 60.18 per mmbtu [metric million British thermal unit] (with a clause for a rate) escalation at 5% per annum for 20 years’. She asked whether the agreement had been entered into based on ‘protracted techno commercial negotiations’, that is, without a proper bidding process. She asked for the reasons as to why IOCL and GAIL had invested public funds amounting to Rs 46,500 crore [US $5.6 billion] in the Dhamra LNG Terminal without following a bidding process for something that could be ‘made for Rs 5,500 crore [US $661 million]’. The Ministry defended the investment decisions of GAIL and IOCL.

In March 2023, Moitra again raised queries about the Dhamra LNG Terminal. She asked whether IOCL and GAIL will have to pay for using the terminal capacity, if the public-sector entities will have a take-or-pay contract, the planned import volume, the completion of the connecting pipeline, and so on. (It was alleged to the CBI that Moitra’s interest in the Dhamra LNG Terminal stems from the Hiranandani Group’s bid to lay a natural gas pipeline along India’s eastern coast.)

More questions from Moitra about Adani

Moitra’s remaining four Adani-related questions pertained to the Gangavaram Port in Andhra Pradesh, the re-allocation of the Parsa East and Kente Basan coal mines in Chhattisgarh, the Adani Group’s foreign portfolio investments, and the handing over of six government-owned airports to the Adani Group. (AdaniWatch has reported extensively on these projects.)

In 2021, Moitra sought details of foreign portfolio investors in various Adani Group companies and asked if any of these firms or any other entities associated with the Adani Group were being investigated for questionable transactions by the government of India’s agencies such as the Enforcement Directorate (or ED, that is responsible for enforcing the Foreign Exchange Management Act and the Prevention of Money Laundering Act or PMLA), the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (both under the Ministry of Finance), and the regulator of the country’s financial markets, the Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI). She sought details of these investigations, if any, and asked whether these were not fit cases to seize assets of the Adani Group. (Under the PMLA, the ED has powers to summarily seize assets if these are suspected to be ‘proceeds of crime’.)

Moitra also sought details about IOCL’s agreement with Adani Ports for the Gangavaram Port.

In 2021, she also asked why there had been delays on the part of Adani Group in taking over the operations of six airports that had been privatised in its favour and the losses, if any, that were incurred by the public-sector Airports Authority of India on account of the delay.

In April 2023, Moitra raised a query with the Ministry of Coal about the re-allocation of the Parsa East and Kente Basan coal block in Chhattisgarh to the Adani Group. These contentious coal blocks were allegedly allocated using a ‘loophole’ that had been kept open by the Modi government. Moitra’s query resonated with the allegation that had been levelled against the Adani Group a month earlier by the opposition Indian National Congress party.

The Congress had alleged that Section 11(1) of the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2025, which was enacted by the Modi government in the wake of a Supreme Court judgment that annulled hundreds of coal-block allocations, added a ‘convenient loophole by permitting a new concessionaire to continue mining contracts signed by the previous allottee’. India’s largest Congress party had alleged that using this loophole, the Adani Group was reappointed as mine developer and operator (MDO) for two coal mines by two BJP state governments.

Congress Support for Moitra

The Congress has backed Moitra in her hour of crisis. Speaking about the about the Moitra episode, the leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, said that the Modi government had made ‘a mountain out of a molehill’. He compared her plight with that of senior Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, who was disqualified from Parliament earlier this year, ostensibly due to an order from a court in Gujarat (the home state of both Modi and Adani) for his allegedly disrespectful remarks about the surname of India’s prime minister. Gandhi, his Congress colleagues and many other players believe the real reason for his ousting was his determined questioning of the relationship between the Adani Group and the Modi government.

‘I don’t know exactly what happened’, said Chowdhury. ‘But in general, what I can say is that every MP has the right to speak in Parliament. And the ruling party wants to throttle everyone inside and outside Parliament.’

Moitra has alleged that the primary agenda of the BJP in dragging her into this scandal is to expel her from Parliament to stop her from raising questions against the Adani Group.

Within three days of having received Dubey’s complaint, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla forwarded it to the lower house’s Ethics Committee, an in-house panel which examines allegations of unethical conduct on the part of members. While the committee convened a meeting (on 26 October), Moitra has raised questions on how Darshan Hiranandani’s affidavit to the committee was leaked to the media.

As well as refuting the allegations against her, Moitra has filed a defamation suit in the Delhi High Court against Nishikant Dubey and certain television news channels that aired programs containing contents of the complaint letter sent to the Lok Sabha speaker.

 

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