Monday, February 24, 2014

Mining: Lawyer-politicians caught in conflict of interests

New Delhi: Lawyer-politicians Abhishek Manu Singhvi and Pinaki Mishra, who appeared on behalf of different mining companies before the Justice MB Shah Commission, have brought back into focus the issue of conflict of interest that many representatives simply shrug off.

Singhvi, who is a Congress spokesperson and a Rajya Sabha MP, appeared before the Commission for Aditya Birla Group company Essel Mining, which has been accused of illegal extraction of ore worth Rs 4,368.75 crore. Singhvi also appeared for the Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), which represents 350 mining companies. FIMI interfaces with the Centre for promotion of miners’ interest. Incidentally, FIMI president HC Daga is an advisor to Essel Mining, the other company that Singhvi represented.

Mishra, a Biju Janata Dal (BJD) Lok Sabha representative from Puri, represented Kalinga Mining Corporation and Sarda Mines Private Limited, both of which are accused of holding illegal ore worth Rs 3,485.89 crore (Sarda Mines-Rs 2,845.58 crore and Kalinga Mining-Rs 640.023 crore). Mishra even defended the companies against the interest of his own government in Odisha.

The Commission probed mining activity in Odisha, and concluded in its report, recently tabled in Parliament, that most mining activity in the state between 2008-2011 defied laid-down rules and was carried out under political patronage. In Mishra’s cases, the pane irected the Odisha government to recover Rs 59,200 crore from them and use it to develop Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts to help the tribals impacted by mining.

Both Singhvi and Mishra defended their actions, saying there was no conflict between their legal profession and their political allegiance. But Dr Arun Gupta, convener of Alliance Against Conflict of Interest, said that lawyers-turned-politicians do take advantage of vagueness of conflict of interest. “It (conflict of interest) is a serious issue biting into the integrity quotient of the Parliament, where a person from business class or his legal representative could have potential conflict while participating in parliamentary deliberations on public policy,” said Gupta.

Singhvi said he represented an association of mining companies and not any individual group. “This was in discharge of my professional duties as a senior counsel along with Ram Jethmalani, Gopal Subramanyam, Anil Dewan and others. It is not a conflict,” said Singhvi and added that as a senior counsel he was briefed by other lawyers, who held the vakalatnama for clients. “We have no connections with the client.”

Mishra said any potential conflict of interest would have arisen if he had defended the company on the floor of the House and reminded that he has never appeared before any court on behalf of government and has never been on any government-appointed committee or board. “As an MP, if I had raised the issue and spoken in the House without disclosing my interest then I would have been liable for indulging in conflict of interest,” said Mishra. “There is no connection between my party BJD and mining companies. As a professional, I was doing my service and I have no truck thereafter with these companies either.”

As many as 92 Rajya Sabha MPs have declared pecuniary interests in the register of interest under Rule 293, which contains crucial information about the financial and business interests of MPs, according to a study compiled by the Association of Democratic Rights (ADR). Incidentally, Singhvi, at Rs 50 crore, has declared the highest amount received from ‘professional engagements’.
Iftikhar Gilani @iftikhargilani
Published Date:  Feb 17, 2014

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