CBI files FIR against former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has filed a first information report (FIR) against former environment minister Jayanthi Natarajan in a case relating to undue favours given to a private firm for carrying out mining activities in an environmentally delicate region.

CBI officers also carried out searches at her residence in Tamil Nadu capital Chennai.

Natarajan, 63, who served as environment minister between July 2011 and December 2013, has been accused of flouting rules and abusing her position as environment minister to permit mining on forestland by Electrosteel Ltd, a private firm.

The CBI on Saturday filed an FIR against Natarajan under sec 120B PC Act, abuse of official position and criminal conspiracy, the ANI news agency reported.

CBI also filed an FIR against Electrosteel Casting Ltd, its then managing director Umang Kejriwal, and others, under section 120B PC Act.

The FIR alleges that as minister of environment, she allegedly gave clearance to mining company Electrosteel for diversion of forest land in Jharkhand's Singhbhum district in 2012, in alleged violation of the Forest (Conservation Act).

She allegedly gave the permission after her predecessor Jairam Ramesh had rejected it.

"Jayanthi Natarajan, the then minister of state for environment and forests, accorded the approval for diversion of 55.79 hectares of forest land for non-forestry use to ECL, though the same had been rejected by the earlier Minister of State...Without any change in the circumstances after rejection," PTI quoted the CBI FIR as saying.

It further said that the approval had been accorded without adhering to the advice of Director General Forests and directions of Supreme Court in this regard.

Natarajan stepped down from her post on 21 December 2013 amid a row over the issue.

She alleged that she had given clearance for industrial projects on "specific requests" from party vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

Natarajan claimed she had to adopt a protectionist approach towards the forestland ''as per the instructions of Rahul Gandhi''.

She further accused Rahul of taking a U-turn ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha polls by criticizing her conservative approach to appease the industrial players.

The Congress, however, dismissed the charges levelled by Natarajan, saying she ''is trying to woo her new political bosses''. The party claimed her tirade against Rahul was a bid to cover up corruption allegations being levelled against her.

Natarajan's successor and former environment minister Prakash Javadekar had said the government may probe the 'extraneous influence' of Rahul Gandhi in the ministry's functioning during the UPA regime.

Natarajan, who quit the Congress in 2015, was elected thrice as a Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu.