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किसका वेदांत

Posted On: 27 Feb, 2010 Others में

फाकामस्तीहां, रंग लाएगी हमारी फाकामस्ती एक दिन


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आज के इंडियन एक्सप्रेस में पहले पेज पर वेदांत कंपनी का विज्ञापन छपा है। विज्ञापन यह कहने के लिए था कि कंपनी ने उड़ीसा के कालाहंडी इलाके की सूरत कैसे बदल डाली है। फरेब कैसे परोसा जा सकता है, यह विज्ञापन उसका जीता-जागता उदाहरण है। लेकिन हैरानी नहीं होती, क्योंकि यही कंपनी इस बात का भी नमूना है कि भारत में लोकतंत्र के चारों खंभे मिलकर किस तरह से सफेद झूठ को सच बना सकते हैं। ये चारों खंभे किसी एक मकसद के लिए कैसे हाथ मिलाते हैं, वेदांत उसका भी बहुत बड़ा उदाहरण है। नीचे एक लेख हू-ब-हू उद्धृत कर रहा हूं जो पिछले साल नवंबर में करेंट मैगजीन में छपा था। यह लेख केवल कंपनी का चिट्ठाभर है। उसकी अंतर्कथा तो फिर कभी… लेकिन लेख पढ़ें, कई बातें आईने की तरह साफ हो जाती हैं।

A controversial conglomerate

The London-based Vedanta Resources, better known in India as the Sterlite group, is currently the country’s largest non-ferrous metals and mining conglomerate in terms of revenues. It is also setting up a power plant. The group also operates in Zambia and Australia. The group has around 50,000 employees and is one of India’s largest taxpayers contributing more that Rs 10,000 crore a year to the exchequer by way of income tax, sales tax, value added tax, excise duty and customs duty.

Primarily engaged in mining and manufacturing copper, zinc and aluminium, the group entered the iron ore business in April 2007 by acquiring Sesa Goa resulting in Vedanta’s revenues jumping by nearly 50 per cent between fiscal 2006 and 2008, from US $ 3.7 billion to $ 8.2 billion or over Rs 41,000 crore. Vedanata acquired a 51 per cent controlling stake in Sesa Goa from Japan’s Mitsui & Company for $ 981 million (or roughly Rs 4,900 crore).

On October 29, the company acknowledged to the stock exchange at Mumbai that the government is probing allegations of financial irregularities, malpractices and mismanagement against a subsidiary of Sesa Goa, Sesa Industries Limited (SIL). Sesa Goa received intimation from the Serious Frauds Investigation Office (SFIO) of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs on October 28 following a probe that had earlier been conducted by the Registrar of Companies relating to the 2001-2009 period.

The RoC probe has been going on since 2003 and the SFIO is meant to complete its investigation in six months. The company stated that it believed “the investigation originates from the complaints filed by one of the shareholders of SIL against SIL, the company and (its) directors in 2003, prior to acquisition of the company by Vedanta” and added that it would cooperate fully with the investigators.

In the first major case of privatization of its kind, in a controversial move in early-2001, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance coalition headed by Atal Behari Vajpayee sold 51 per cent of the Union government’s stake in Bharat Aluminium Company (BALCO) to Sterlite for Rs 551 crore.

In the more recent past, the Vedanta/Sterlite group has been accused of a variety of contentious decisions from fomenting industrial unrest, insider trading, share price manipulation, environmental pollution, arousing the ire of indigenous communities, tax evasion and political donations.

The contents of a book entitled “Vedanta’s Billions” by Rohit Poddar on the group had raised a ruckus in the Rajya Sabha in August 2006 when MPs belonging to the Samajwadi Party, the Telugu Desam Party and the All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in the Rajya Sabha demanded the resignation of then Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram on the basis of certain disclosures that were made in the book. The House had to be adjourned during zero hour as the MPs created a commotion over Chidambaram’s links with the Vedanta/Sterlite group.

It was pointed out in Poddar’s book that Chidambaram drew an amount of $ 70,000 (nearly Rs 35 lakh) a year as a non-executive director of the flagship company in the Vedanata/Sterlite group during 2003, a year during which the market value of the company’s shares rose by a massive 1,000 per cent!

The former Finance Minister and his wife had acted as lawyers on behalf of the group in a case relating to alleged evasion of taxes. It had been alleged that the government dragged its feet in recovering excise and customs duty dues worth more than Rs 200 crore from group company, Sterlite Optical Technologies Limited (SOTL), based in Aurangabad.

Chidambaram and his wife (also a lawyer) represented SOTL to seek a stay on recovery of allegedly unpaid customs and excise duties in the Bombay High Court. The tax probe was initiated as SOTL allegedly diverted products from its 100 per cent export-oriented plant for sale in the domestic market. The company had been exempt from payment of import duties on the condition that all products manufactured using imported raw material would be exported and not sold domestically.

Sterlite’s tax dues totalled almost Rs 250 crore, Rs 240.4 crore by way of central excise duty and Rs 9.26 crore as customs duty. The court dismissed the petition against the company after an appeal and the quantum of central excise duties that was payable by SOTL was brought to Rs 199 crore.

It was also reported that between 2003 and 2007, the group had through a trust — called the Public and Political Awareness Trust — contributed funds to both the BJP and the Congress. An MLA from Orissa had raised a controversy when he publicly claimed that Vedanta had donated the equivalent of $ 2.5 million (Rs 7.5 crore) to various political parties in India and alleged that among the recipients of the money was Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and other leaders of his party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD).

In 2003, the Bombay High Court had severely criticized the management of the Vedanta/Sterlite group for the manner in which shares of two investment companies were transferred to Twinstar Holdings, a Mauritius based subsidiary of the London-headquartered Vedanta Resources, with the alleged aim of evading payment of tax liabilities (see main story).

In another tax-evasion case against the Vedanta group, the UK-based company at present faces a situation wherein it may have to pay a sum equivalent to Rs 900 crore for failing to deduct taxes while purchasing a controlling equity stake in Sesa Goa, a company that mines iron ore in three Indian states in India. Vedanta had purchased
51 per cent of Sesa Goa’s shares in 2007 beating competitive bids from Arcelor Mittal and a company in the Kumaramangalam Birla group.

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