The Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government has sought six months' time from nine banks to repay the principal amount of a loan taken during the Left front rule over a decade ago for supplying iron ore to a China-based company.
"We will only be able to repay the principal amount taken from banks by the then Left front government in 2004-05 for supplying iron ore to China. We will pay it within six months," West Bengal Food Supplies Department minister Jyotipriyo Mallick today said.
"We will soon hold a meeting with the banks and tell them of our inability to pay them the interest amount," he added.
The West Bengal Essential Commodities Supply Corporation Ltd (WBECSC), which is under the food supplies department, had taken loan of over Rs 370 crore from the nine nationalised banks and had reportedly exported inferior quality iron ore to the China-based company.
The consignment was rejected but it never returned to Kolkata and WBECSC lost more than Rs 300 crore.
Following this, a consensus was reached between WBECSC and a consortium of the nine banks that Rs 232.42 crore including both principal and the interest would be paid in seven instalments in the period between October 2007 to October 2017.
The Cabinet had then agreed that the state government would be the principal guaranteer for the loan repayment.
The minister said the WBECSC has so far paid Rs 75.47 crore and the outstanding amount was Rs 156.95 crore.
After paying Rs 75 crore as loan repayment WBECSC had failed to make any further payments to the consortium and moved the Debt Recovery Tribunal (DRT) in 2009.
Bank of Maharashtra, one of the nine banks which had given the loan, had appointed an Interim Resolution Professional (IRP) and started Corporate Insolvency Resolution Process for the recovery of its Rs 27.93 crore as per the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code 2016.
The IRP had freezed all bank accounts of the WBECSC, Mallick said.
"On the request of our officers the bank accounts were reopened for the period of another six months as per the time limit for resolution of the dispute," he said.
The state government, Mullick said, expects that investigations into the iron ore scam may be over in another year's time.
"The CID is working very efficiently and quickly and hopefully the investigation would be over in a year's time.
But because the investigation is yet to be over we cannot speak much on it," he said.
Former food minister Naren De's successor Paresh Adhikari had lodged a complaint following a departmental inquiry in 2007 and Kolkata Police detective department had arrested two senior officers. But the subsequent chargesheet could not directly implicate those at the helm of WBECSCL or the food and civil supplies department.
After Trinamool Congress came to power, CID was asked to probe the case afresh.
Besides, six IAS officers, over 40 others including chairman, commissioner, managing directors, principal secretaries, and two former ministers Kalimuddin Shams and Naren De - both in-charge of the food and civil supplies department in different periods were allegedly involved in the scam in 2004-05.
Though the decision was taken when Kalimuddin Shams was the food minister, the export took when De was at the helm of the department.
The CID has already grilled De and arrested two IAS officers - the then managing director of the essential commodities services department Debaditya Chakraborty and the then director general of the food and civil supplies department R N Jamir for their alleged involvement in the scam.