‘Cash-for-query’ row: 62 questions by Mahua Moitra, 9 on Adani, 1 on Hiranandani group

The TMC MP has denied all the charges and accused Darshan Hiranandani of making allegations under pressure.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
Cutouts of Mahua Moitra and Darshan Hiranandani with the Parliament building in the backdrop.

As the Lok Sabha ethics committee prepares to hear cash-for-query allegations against Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, accusations are piling up about the misuse of parliamentary privileges, allegedly to help the Hiranandani Group and target its business rival Adani Group. 

Hiranandani Group CEO Darshan Hiranandani on Friday filed a sworn affidavit accusing the MP of taking bribes to ask questions in Parliament, days after a CBI complaint by her “jilted ex” and advocate Jai Anant Dehadrai, and a letter to the Lok Sabha speaker by BJP MP Nishikant Dubey. 

Meanwhile, the chairman of the ethics committee, which is set to look into the matter on October 26, told the media that the panel has received Hiranandani’s affidavit – hours after it was circulated to the media. 

While the industrialist has accused Moitra of pressuring him for monetary favours and passing on her Parliament login credentials, the TMC MP has denied all the allegations against her. She also claimed that Hiranandani had acted with a “proverbial gun” to his head, and wondered if the ethics committee could speak to the media about a matter which was yet to be discussed. She also said she welcomed questions from the CBI and the parliamentary panel but not an “Adani directed media circus trial” or BJP trolls.

On the same day, the Delhi High Court was “appalled” over Dehadrai’s claims that Moitra’s lawyer had reached out to him to allegedly withdraw his CBI complaint in exchange for the custody of Henry – a dog over whom Moitra and Dehadrai fought for custody.

In his complaint to CBI, Dehadrai has alleged that Moitra posed queries in collaboration with Darshan Hiranandani, who is the son and successor of real estate tycoon Niranjan Hiranandani – the founder and managing director of Hiranandani Group. While the group’s main business interest lies in real estate and infrastructure, it is also diversifying in emerging sectors such as data centers, cloud computing, energy, and industrial warehousing and logistics. 

But what were Moitra’s questions? Could they be a breach of parliamentary ethics? 

Newslaundry looked at all the queries the Krishnanagar MP has asked so far in Parliament, and found that at least nine of her total 62 questions pertained to the Adani Group. One of Moitra’s questions, meanwhile, directly mentioned the Hiranandani Group.

It’s not clear if any of these could give undue advantage to any corporate firm. Additionally, unlike the 2005 cash-for-query scandal, there is no money trail at this stage to link to the MP.

Let’s take a look.

In 62 questions, 28 ministries

Since her election as West Bengal’s Krishnanagar Lok Sabha representative in 2019, Moitra has asked 62 questions spanning 28 union ministries, ranging from petroleum to agriculture, shipping, civil aviation, railways, etc. 

But the highest number of questions – nine of the 62 – were for the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, followed by eight queries for finance. 

And among the total 62, nine questions related to the Adani Group: six for the petroleum ministry, and one each for the finance, civil aviation, and coal ministries.

Five of these questions were focussed on Adani’s controversial Dhamra Liquefied Natural Gas terminal on the Odisha coast. The remaining four were about the Adani-owned Gangavaram Port in Andhra Pradesh, the reallocation of the Parsa East and Kente basin mines, Adani’s foreign portfolio investments and the handing over of six airports to Adani.

The five questions on Dhamra terminal 

Moitra’s first question as MP was for the petroleum ministry, asking details of whether central PSU GAIL had dropped a storage project at the Paradip Port. In the same query, she asked whether the Indian Oil Corporation Limited and GAIL had inked an agreement with a “private entity” to take 11 percent and 38 percent stake in Dhamra Port “under which the two PSUs will have capital expenditure of “Rs 34,500 crore compared to the capital expenditure of Rs 2,485 crore in Paradip Port”. “If so, the details thereof and the reasons therefore.”

In its response, the government maintained that the MoU signed with Paradip Port Trust was dropped in 2015 “as gas demand in the eastern part of the country would take some time to mature” and “setting up of two competing LNG terminals at round the same time in such close proximity would not be commercially viable on standalone basis”. To the second part of her query, the ministry said that a non-binding MoU had been signed in 2016, under which the Adani Petroleum Terminal Private Limited had 50 percent equity. “GAIL and IOCL have informed that no capital expenditure has been made by them on this project.”

In the 2019 winter session, the Dhamra LNG terminal made two appearances in Moitra’s questions. She sought information about GAIL and IOCL’s  capacity booking at the Adani-owned LNG terminal. The MP also asked for a comparison of terminal charges, vessel-related charges, port charges, and any other related fees, in relation to Dhamra, Dabhol, Ennore, and Paradip ports.

In March 2020, Moitra again asked whether IOCL or GAIL have signed a tolling agreement with Dhamra LNG Terminal  for 4.5 million tonnes per annum at the price of “Rs 60.18/mmbtu escalation at 5 percent per annum for 20 years”. She further asked whether the deal was “on the basis of “protracted techno commercial negotiations”, which means without tender. She sought to know the reasons for “IOCL and GAIL giving Dhamra LNG Terminal Rs 46,500 crore without a tender process for something that can be made for Rs 5,500 crore”.

The ministry’s response was not clear about whether the agreement was signed on “use or pay” basis and if Dhamra LNG terminal was granted Rs 46,500 crore without a tender process. 

In March this year, Moitra again asked about the Dhamra LNG terminal. She sought several details such as whether IOCL and GAIL  will have to pay for the terminal capacity, if they will have a take-or-pay contract, the planned import volume, the completion of the connecting pipeline, etc.

In his complaint to CBI, Dehadrai has alleged that Moitra’s question on GAIL-Paradip Port Trust deal is linked to the Hiranandani Group’s bid to lay the Contai–Dattapulia–Jajpur–Dhamra–Cuttack–Paradip natural gas pipeline. He also alleged that these questions were nothing but “targeting” of Adani. “Hiranandani has been expecting to connect the coast of West Bengal  to Bangladesh since 2016 and Adani’s involvement in the ports to this end obviously hinders his plans–given the fact that he already has invested in Bangladesh separately,” the complaint read. 

In four other Adani questions, airports, foreign investors

Besides the five questions pertaining to the Dhamra LNG terminal, Moitra, in four other questions, asked about other Adani interests such as the Gangavaram Port in Andhra Pradesh, and the handing over of six airports to the conglomerate. 

In 2021, Moitra sought details of the foreign portfolio investors owning stake in the Adani Group companies. She asked if the “FPIs and/or Adani entities are under investigation by SEBI, IT, ED, DRI, MCA for suspicious transactions and if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefor; (c) Whether it is not a fit case to seize the assets first under PMLA and investigate thoroughly and if so, the details thereof.”

Moitra sought details of IOCL’s MoU with Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Limited at Gangavaram Port, including the MoU’s duration, take-or-pay commitments, pricing structure, annual volume commitments, and provisions for cost escalations. She also raised questions about whether the MoU had received approval from IOCL’s board, any related transactions, and the necessary government approvals for these transactions. She also asked about IOCL’s potential shift of its business operations from the Vizag port to Gangavaram, and the reasons thereof.

In 2021, she asked about the delay in the taking over of airports by the Adani Group, and the losses incurred by the Airport Authority of India due to the same. 

In April 2023, she also questioned the reallocation of the Parsa East and Kente Basin mines, in which the Adani Group was an alleged beneficiary of a loophole in Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act , 2015.  

According to Dehadrai’s complaint, Hiranandani’s assistant provided an “Adani-related packet” at Moitra’s residence in the same month she asked the question about foreign investors.

On the question on handing over of airports, Dehadrai’s complaint alleged it was linked to the Hiranandani Group and other firms pulling out of the bidding process for the Navi Mumbai Airport project, which was later won by Adani.   

The Kolkata port

The complaint also alleged that Moitra’s question, seeking details about cargo-wise volume and revenue of Kolkata Port Trust, was linked to Hiranandani Group’s MoU to establish a jetty-based LNG terminal at Kukrahati at East Midnapore. Asked in November 2019, the question sought to know the steps being taken to ensure that port development on the waterfront along the Hooghly.

Between 2019 and 2022, Moitra asked three questions related to Kolkata Port Trust, related to development of ports along the Hooghly River Waterfront, land left with Kolkata Port Trust for further port development, and steps taken by the Kolkata Port Trust and lnland Waterways Authority of lndia to prevent boating vessels getting stuck in waterways due to silt. 

While the complaint claims the MoU was signed in 2019, news reports suggest it was inked in February 2021. 

One question named Hiranandani Group firm 

On August 4, 2021, a question by Moitra mentioned H-Energy, a Hiranandani oil and gas infrastructure unit which has one LNG terminal at Jaigarh in Maharashtra while  another is being developed at Kukrahati in West Bengal.  

In her query to the Ministry of External Affairs, Moitra asked whether the Petroleum and Natural Gas Regulatory Board had authorised IOC, GAIL and H-Energy to build a natural gas pipeline through Bengal to the Bangladesh border. The ministry said the board had authorised H-Energy in 2019.

The allegations about other questions

Dehadrai’s complaint also alleged that Moitra’s question seeking statistics on the quality of service provided by the Telecom Service Providers and call drop rates and good voice quality rate was meant to help Hiranandani Group’s push for its data centres.

It also alleged that her question seeking the government’s position on e-sports as a growing market and its plan to regulate was to aid Hiranandani Group’s foray into the consumer technology segment with a new venture called Tez Platforms.

Dehadrai also alleged that Moitra’s question on the Supreme Court’s warning to the Enforcement Directorate to invoke the Prevention of Money Laundering Act was linked to tax raids at premises linked to the Hiranandani Group in March 2022. 

He alleged that Moitra favoured the Hiranandani Group’s business interests in Bangladesh through her  2019 question  on the number of integrated check posts between West Bengal and Bangladesh, and the status of signing the agreement for free movement of trucks between the two countries. “Hiranandani has invested in Bangladesh hugely – during the same period – meaning that Hiranandani would seek to avail free movement through the border,” the complaint alleged.

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Also see
article imageMahua Moitra’s ‘jilted ex’, former ToI columnist, lawyer: Who is Jai Anant Dehadrai?


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