Decks have been cleared for the CBI to seek a response from chief vigilance commissioner (CVC) Pradeep Kumar on the coal scam as he was a member of the allocation screening committee in 2006. Kumar was then special secretary in the coal ministry.
The IAS officer served in the ministry as additional and special secretary between December 2003 and October 2006.
Top government sources said Kumar attended a meeting of the screening committee, the panel set up to vet applications of private firms for coal block allocation, on September, 22, 2006. Grace Industries — booked by the CBI for misrepresenting facts — was one of the 15 firms whose application was approved on the day.
Kumar did not respond to multiple messages left by HT at his office with his private secretary AS Bhandari, and on his mobile phone till late Monday.
The clearance to seek the CVC’s views came in the form of an opinion given by solicitor general Rohinton F Nariman. He is learnt to have told the CBI that there is no legal bar on getting Kumar's response or that of other top officials who served in the ministry during the period under probe.
The CBI will decide whether it wants to seek a response in person or by sending a questionnaire to Kumar, HT has learnt.
The legal opinion was sought to overcome a tricky situation since the Central Vigilance Commission has powers to oversee the CBI's functioning in corruption cases. Interestingly, it was the vigilance panel headed by Kumar, which referred the matter of irregularities in coal allocation to the CBI for a probe.
"Grace Industries got approval for allocation of Lohara East coal block in Maharashtra in the screening committee meeting held on September 22, 2006. It had made presentation before the screening committee on September 7," confirmed a CBI official.
Top government sources disclosed that the meeting was chaired by then coal secretary HC Gupta who was interviewed by the CBI during preliminary enquiry.
Another ministry official who attended the meeting was joint secretary Kuljit Singh Kropha. At present posted as development commissioner (Meghalaya), Kropha was joint secretary (coal) between April 2005 and April 2010.
"I have nothing to say as the matter is already under investigation by the CBI," said Kropha when contacted by HT.