Senior officials of Hindustan Paper Corporation Limited (HPCL), including its former chairman-cum-managing director MVN Rao, have been booked by the CBI in a Rs-64 crore bamboo purchase scam, wherein inflated prices were allegedly paid to the Dima Hasao Autonomous Council (DHAC) in Assam, officials said. The scam pertains to alleged irregularities in the procurement of bamboo by Cachar Paper Mill (CPM) from the DHAC. Bamboo pulp is used for producing paper.
Besides Rao (now retired), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has also booked the then director (operations) SN Bhattarcharya, director (finance) Amitabh Banerjee and company secretary LR Ekanath of HPCL.
The agency has also named as accused the then chief executive of CPM Pratap Goswami, acting chief executive TR Gowda, other senior officials and RS Gandhi, the proprietor of Hill Trade Agency, which was given a subcontract by DHAC for the bamboo supply to CPM.
The DHAC, formerly known as the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council (NCHAC), is an autonomous district council in Assam that had entered into an agreement with HPCL for the supply of bamboo in 1980 for a period of 30 years, officials said.
Till 2006, HPCL used to cut and transport bamboos, for which a fixed royalty was paid to DHAC under the agreement.
The agreement, which came into affect in 1982, had to remain in force till 2012. However, a supplementary agreement was signed in 2006 between the two sides, under which DHAC employed a sub-contractor -- Hill Trade Agency -- for the purpose of cutting and transporting bamboo, resulting in an increase in the supply rates and transportation costs, the officials said.
At a meeting on February 16, 2011, DHAC and HPCL fixed a rate of Rs 3,225 per Metric Tonne Green (MTG) for supply to CPM, which subsequently increased it to Rs 5,275 per Metric Tonne Air Dried (MTAD) within 14 days, they added.
The rates excluded the unloading and stacking costs, which was in contravention of the supplementary agreement signed between the two sides on March 2, 2011, but the HPCL management did not raise this point, causing a huge loss to the corporation as bamboo prices finally came to Rs 5,900 per MTAD.
Several rounds of negotiations on price fixation took place between the two sides over the next four years, resulting in a loss of Rs 64.49 crore to HPCL due to purchase of bamboos from DHAC at exorbitant prices between 2011-12 and 2014-15, the CBI FIR alleged.
"The quantity of bamboo supplied by DHAC and HTA, which was much beyond the actual requirement, was regularised by the corporate headquarters of HPCL in Kolkata and payments were released," an official said.