Firms Linked to Kolkata Industrialist Mahendra Jalan Spent Rs 617 Crore on Electoral Bonds

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Firms Linked to Kolkata Industrialist Mahendra Jalan Spent Rs 617 Crore on Electoral Bonds 

| Updated: March 16, 2024 11:03

Four firms linked to Kolkata-based industrialist Mahendra K Jalan and his family purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 616.92 crore between April 2019 and January 2024, data released by the Election Commission of India (ECI) under the Supreme Court (SC)’s instructions revealed

This makes the group the third-highest political funder, after the Tamil Nadu-based lottery firm Future Gaming and Hotel Services PR (Rs 1,368 crore) and Megha Engineering & Infrastructures Ltd (Rs 966 crore).

Of Jalan’s group of companies, Keventer Foodpark Infra Limited purchased 204 bonds worth Rs 195 crore, Madanlal Ltd. purchased 199 bonds worth Rs 185.5 crore, MKJ Enterprises Ltd purchased 324 bonds worth Rs 192.42 crore and Sasmal Infrastructure Private Limited purchased 44 bonds worth Rs 44 crore.

The payments made through Keventer Foodpark and Madanlal came at a crucial time – in the middle of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in West Bengal – Rs 55 crore on April 16, Rs 75 crore on May 7, and Rs 65 crore on May 8 through Keventer and Rs. 110 crore on May 8 and Rs 75.5 crore on May 10 through Madanlal Ltd.

The 2021 Assembly election in West Bengal was held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19. This means that they purchased bonds worth Rs 380 crore during the election season.

While it is not yet clear from the available data set (as the serial numbers of the bonds have not yet been published) to determine who received how much of this funding, the state’s ruling party, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) is unlikely to be the main beneficiary.

According to records uploaded by the ECI on Thursday, the TMC encashed Rs 17 crore on April 16, Rs 75 lakh on April 22, Rs 5 crore on May 8, Rs 27.8 crore on May 14, and Rs 1 crore on May 22. This means, the TMC cumulatively got Rs 51.6 crore from all fundings through electoral bonds during the 2019 election period.

Understandably, Jalan funded some other parties the most, even though his business interests are mostly in West Bengal, even though they have footprints outside the state and plan to expand their agro, dairy and food processing business to other parts of the country.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections saw the BJP carrying out a high-voltage campaign in West Bengal, with star campaigners including heavyweight Union ministers and various BJP-ruled state’s chief ministers making repeated visits to address multiple rallies. The saffron party recorded an unprecedented surge – increasing its Lok Sabha tally from the state from 2 in 2014 to 18 in 2019.

It is interesting to note that after Bengal Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury alleged a scam in the government’s sale of Metro Diary shares to Keventer Agro, one of the group companies, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) started a probe in October 2017 and spoke to the Keventer group management a few times in 2018.

However, in the post-Lok Sabha election scenario, the probe focused more on TMC MLAs and government officials. The Jalan group of companies’ funding through electoral bonds was also reduced in the post-2019 Lok Sabha election period.

The payments from MKJ Enterprises came between October 4, 2019, and November 18, 2023. Those from Sasmal Infrastructure came between November 8 2023 and January 11, 2024.

Going by the health of the companies that purchased the bonds, Sasmal Infrastructure has an authorized share capital is Rs. 2 crore and a paid-up capital of Rs. 18.5 lakh. Keventer Food Park’s authorised share capital is 10 crore and its paid-up capital is 4.35 crore. MKJ Enterprise’ authorized share capital is Rs. 5 Rs. 5 crore and its paid-up capital is Rs. 4.55 crore. Madanlal Ltd’s authorized share capital is Rs. 8.25 crore and its paid-up capital is Rs. 8 crore.

Jalan is the chairman and managing director of the MKJ Group, which describes itself as “the pioneer in the stainless steel business in India,” and chairman emeritus of the Keventer Group, of which Keventer Projects Ltd is a part. All four firms are part of the 11 entities that make up the MKJ group of companies.

Coming to prominence in the state’s business and industry scene in the 1990s, Jalan was known as a real estate baron by the turn of the new century. After that, he expanded significantly in the dairy, agro and food processing sectors. By 2022, Jalan was planning to build a 33-storied building in Kolkata’s Hooghly (Ganga) river facing Strand Road, one of the city’s central business districts, and to top it with a helipad on its roof. The project is in the pipeline.

Jalan maintained good rapport with both BJP and the TMC since 2013. At a time when Modi was yet to come to power, he was among the few businessmen to attend Modi’s meet in Bengal. At the same time, he was also attending Mamata Banerjee’s events.

Jalan also serves as the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Kolkata and a trustee member of Heritage School, chairman of Heritage Academy and Heritage School of Technology. Madanlal Ltd has been described as “a part of MKJ Group & Keventer Group of companies.”

Jalan is not part of the board of directors of all four firms that purchased the bonds. In some of them, Radheshyam Khetan is in charge. Khetan is part of the board of directors of Madanlal Limited and MKJ Enterprises Limited. He serves as the Chief Operating Officer of Keventer Projects Limited, a group company of Madanlal Limited. Madanlal Ltd is engaged in the purchase and sale of securities and the real estate sector, according to the company’s profile.

The contributions from MKJ came mostly in smaller amounts, the biggest ones being Rs 28 crore on October 12, 2023, Rs 15 crore on November 18, 2023, and Rs 11.4 crore on July 9, 2021.

 In November 2023, Sasmal Infrastructure purchased bonds worth another Rs 35 crore.

 The Jalans live on the Belvedere road in Alipore, one of Kolkata’s poshest localities. His son, Mayank, is part of the board of directors in several of the group companies. In Keventers Agro, Mayank and his wife, Parvana Mayank Jalan, sit on the board of directors. 

In 2017, after the state government decided to disinvest in Metro Dairy Ltd (MDL) and Keventers Agro took over the government’s 47% stake in MDL for Rs 84.5 crore, state Congress president and Lok Sabha MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury filed a petition in the Calcutta high court, alleging irregularities in the tender and e-auction process, undervaluation of shares and the resultant loss to the state exchequer. However, in 2022, the High Court and later the Supreme Court dismissed Chowdhury’s allegations.

 According to senior business journalist Avijit Ghosal, Jalan first came to the limelight when West Bengal’s former chief minister Jyoti Basu of the CPI(M)-led Left Front government announced the new industrial policy in 1994. Jalan showed interest in building a port at Kulpi in South 24 Parganas district and also a ship-building unit in Nayachar in East Midnapore district. 

“However, none of them materialised and to the best of my knowledge, did not progress beyond feasibility surveys. They later made a mark in the agro, dairy and food processing business and realty,” Ghosal said. 

Ghosal said that in political funding, the financial strength of a company might not necessarily reflect in the amounts of their donations, as multiple factors get involved and an industrial group might and often use a particular company as a vehicle for chanelling funds.

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