30 Aug 2013
Court also gives government four weeks to submit report to CBI on missing files, documents related to probe
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to complete its investigation in the coal field allocation case by December, and gave the government four weeks to submit a report to the agency on missing files and documents related to the probe.
The CBI is investigating alleged irregularities in the allocation of captive coal fields between 1993 and 2010 as part of a court-monitored probe.
The apex court on Thursday censured the government for its failure to provide to the CBI all the documents it has sought. If the court is not satisfied with the government’s response, it may ask the CBI to investigate the case of the missing files and documents.
“Despite repeated orders, including that of 6 August, certain files are not forthcoming,” said justice R.M. Lodha, who is heading a three-member bench of the apex court. “This does have vital bearing on the investigation.”
Reviewing the fourth status report of the CBI in the case, Lodha said the government's response to the agency has been that the documents are not traceable, and coal ministry officials do not respond immediately or answer queries. Under such circumstances, “they (CBI) can’t effectively seek inquiry or investigation,” he said.
Last Friday, the government had said that only seven of the 43 files sought by the CBI were “being searched”. The government reiterated this on Monday in an affidavit filed before the court. The issue of the missing documents stalled proceedings in Parliament on several occasions last week.
The court said a mere assurance that a search was on or that the documents were “not available” do not suffice. “Have you filed a report with the CBI?” Lodha asked the government, adding that a “criminal case can be registered”. “Government should not take months to respond to queries or making records available,” Lodha said.
Discussing the contents of the status report, which was submitted in a sealed cover, the bench noted that reports prepared by experts from Coal India Ltd on the financial strengths of some contenders for the coal blocks, such as Navbharat Power Ltd and Green Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd, were “not available” as per the coal ministry.
It added that despite repeated requests, the minutes of meetings of the screening committee, which decided on the question of allocation, were also not given.
Recommendation letters written by Congress member of Parliament Vijay Darda to the Prime Minister’s Office for allocation of the blocks, which were forwarded to the coal ministry, have also not been given to the CBI.
Indian Police Service officers Ravi Kant, Velusamy Murgesan and Amit Kumar, who are deputed to the CBI and are investigating the case, were questioned on its progress and possible duration for the completion of the investigation.
For the status report, the bench noted that the investigation for the 2006-09 period covers 85 coal block allocations and 169 private companies, of which only 37 companies have been covered thus far.
The court also allowed the investigative agency to share the details of some of the cases with specific lawyers, whose names have been shared only with the court. The court had earlier barred the CBI from sharing the details with any official including the “minister of the central cabinet, law officers, advocate(s) of CBI, director of prosecution and officials/officers of the central government”.
The court had in its order said in only those cases where investigation had been completed and legal opinion on evidence or other aspects was needed for further action could the CBI consult lawyers.
The CBI also told the court that only two states—Jharkhand and Kerala—have given sanction to investigate state-owned companies that were allotted captive coal blocks. The agency said it is still awaiting sanctions from 18 other state governments. The apex court asked the department of personnel and training of the Union government to inform the bench on the progress made in this regard.
The Union government itself has not given its sanction in this regard, without which the CBI cannot investigate the roles of any of the state-owned companies.