A Delhi court on 27 July sent former Rajya Sabha member and chairman of the Lokmat Media Group, Vijay Darda, and his son, Devendra Darda, who is managing director of the group, to four years in jail in connection with alleged irregularities in the allocation of a coal block in Chhattisgarh.
The court also sentenced JLD Yavatmal Energy Private Limited director Manoj Kumar Jayaswal to four years in jail. Former coal secretary H C Gupta and two other officials – K S Kropha and K C Samaria – received a three-year jail sentence, news agency PTI reported.
Lokmat Media is a leading multi-platform media company with interests in a diversified portfolio of publishing, broadcast, digital, entertainment, community, and sports verticals. It has an employee strength of more than 3,000 with a pan-India network of offices.
Lokmat, the company website says, is the largest-read newspaper in Maharashtra with 2.18 cr readers (source: Total readership, IRS 2019,Q3) along with Lokmat Samachar and Lokmat Times, the group has a readership of 2.50 cr (source: Total readership, IRS 2019,Q3). Its news channel News18 Lokmat has over 30 million average monthly viewers. The group also has two magazines – the annual Marathi Deepawali issue Deepotsav and the annual Hindi publication Deepbhav.
The case is related to the allocation of coal blocks that were advertised in 2006. It was alleged that JLD Yavatmal Energy Pvt Ltd had concealed various facts in its application form in order to obtain wrongful gain in the allocation of the coal block, Bar and Bench reported.
It is alleged that the coal block was allocated to JLD as a result of active collaboration between the office bearers of the company and the coal ministry officials – Gupta, Kropha and Samaria.
A fine of ₹10 lakh each has been imposed on the Dardas and Jayaswal, while Gupta, Kropha and Samaria are to pay a fine of ₹10,000 each.
Earlier this month, special judge Sanjay Bansal convicted them under the Indian Penal Code (IPC)’s Sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) and under the Prevention of Corruption Act. This is the thirteenth conviction in the coal scam case that rocked the Manmohan Singh government in 2012.
During the argument on the quantum of the sentence, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) claimed that Darda and his son Devender had met former CBI director Ranjit Sinha at his residence to scuttle the investigation.
The Supreme Court had constituted an SIT to investigate Sinha’s role in prima facie allegations against him for trying to influence the probe in coal scam cases. Sinha, an IPS officer from the 1974 batch, died in 2021.
CBI’s senior Public Prosecutor A P Singh further claimed that a witness in the case stated that he was threatened by Jayaswal, who tried to influence him not to depose against him.
Another report said that on November 20, 2014, the court rejected a CBI closure report and ordered the agency to reopen the case after finding that the former MP had “misrepresented” the truth in letters to the then coal minister, former prime minister Manmohan Singh.
According to the court, Vijay Darda took these actions to guarantee JLD Yavatmal Energy access to the Fatehpur (East) coal block in Chhattisgarh.
The Lokmat Website says Vijay Darda was the chairman of the Audit Bureau of Circulation (India) for 2010-11. He is a former president of the Indian Newspaper Society, founder president of the South Asian Editors Forum formed by the editors of dailies in South Asia, an ex-member of the Press Council of India, and managing trustee of the Press Institute of Maharashtra.
Currently, he is a member of the World Association of Newspapers, Paris, the Commonwealth Press Union, London, the International Advertising Association Inc., New York, the Indian Language Newspaper Association, the National Readership Studies Council, and the Advertising Club of India.
Devendra Darda has been on the board of the company since May 2002. He is involved in the company’s day-to-day operations and also looks into the editorial, finance and technical functions. He sits on the executive committee of the Indian Newspaper Society, South Asian Regional Committee of IFRA, a global body for printing and paper and INCA-FIEJ Research Association, the Lokmat website says.