New Delhi: Two RP Sanjiv Goenka Group companies, flagged by CAG for rigging coal mine auction, are among the top twenty funders of political parties under the now-scrapped electoral bonds scheme.

The names are in the list of electoral bond donors and recipients released by the Election Commission following the apex court orders.

The two firms played a key role in rigging bids during the country’s first ever coal auction, to help the group’s flagship firm win the coal block, and were caught by the government’s auditor CAG. The Union government, aware of the rigging, vehemently defended the auction both in public and in its correspondence with the CAG. Documents brought out by The Reporters’ Collective also revealed that the Union government also closed out competition by illegally barring West Bengal government’s firm from the auction, helping Goenka group win.

The two firms together donated a total of Rs 485 crore through electoral bonds to political parties whose identity is yet to be matched. Last month, the apex court struck down the electoral bonds scheme, which allowed unlimited contribution to political parties through electoral bonds, as unconstitutional.

In the 2015 auction for the West Bengal-based 83-million-tonne Sarisatolli coal block, an RP Sanjiv Goenka Group’s company acquired a shell firm and put it up as a competitor against its flagship Calcutta Electricity Supply Corporation (CESC) and Haldia Energy. With this, three of five bidders for the coal mine belonged to the conglomerate – CESC, Haldia Energy and the shell firm called Sheesham Commercial.

Of the three RPSG subsidiaries, Haldia Energy did not bid at all, the shell company, acquired two days before the auction, tendered a bid from the same private internet protocol (IP) address used by its parent company and the bid-winner, the CESC, which according to CAG protocol was a textbook case of collusion.

Haldia Energy donated over Rs 370 crore through electoral bonds, making it the fourth largest donor.

Acquisition of a shell company was crucial to win the auction because according to the coal auction rules, a minimum of five bidders was required. It was Dhariwal Infrastructure, another RP Sanjiv Goenka Group firm, which along with CESC acquired the shell company.

Dhariwal donated over Rs 115 crore, making it 17th largest donor via electoral bonds.

CAG in its internal correspondence grilled the Union Coal Ministry over auction rigging. However, in its public report, the CAG skipped naming any of the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group companies.

When The Reporters’ Collective exposed what is a textbook case of auction rigging, the Ministry once again defended the bidding process.