The Central Bureau of Investigation has registered a preliminary enquiry against unnamed officials in the ministry of environment and forests and of Jindal Steel & Power Ltd for irregularities in the clearance for diversion of Saranda forest land in Jharkhand for mining.
The decision was taken when Jayanthi Natarajan was holding charge of the ministry. The CBI feels the company was favoured by the forest advisory committee (FAC) even though a wildlife management plan was awaited.
The CBI apparently found irregularities while examining documents during its investigations into the coal block allocation scam.
Saranda, a sensitive area that was under Maoist control for a decade before paramilitary forces took over in 2011, is home to elephants, giant squirrel, reptiles, sloth bear and barking bear. It is in the core area of the elephant reserve.
Former rural development minister Jairam Ramesh had termed the FAC nod to Jindal Steel's mining lease in Saranda forest division as a retrograde step and said it must be reconsidered.
According to CBI sources, the inquiry has been initiated against unknown officials of JSPL and the environment ministry for alleged irregularities in diversion of Saranda forest land between 2007-13.
Reports say nearly 512.43 hectares of the ecologically sensitive Saranda forest in West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand was diverted for the Ghatkuri iron ore mining lease to JSPL.
There were glaring irregularities in the allocation process as the environment ministry changed its position a number of times before it was allocated in 2013.
The CBI sources said the PE was registered after the irregularities surfaced during the examination of documents recovered during the probe against the group.
A JSPL spokesperson said, "We have only come to know of the preliminary enquiry through media reports. JSPL reiterates that we have always co-operated with the investigative agencies and will respond when we receive these queries from the investigative authorities."
Earlier this month, CBI had registered a first information report FIR against JSPL in a case related to the coal block allocation scam.