The CBI investigating the 1.86 lakh crore coal block allocation scandal may search offices of the coal ministry and seize records after September 15 in a last-ditch effort to trace the missing files crucial to its probe, HT has learnt.
“Despite reminders we have not received any reply from the ministry and we may have to go in and seize records,’’ a Central Bureau of Investigation officer told HT on condition of anonymity.
The documents that would be of primary interest to the agency would be the dispatch registers, which record the movement of all government files. A scrutiny of these would help establish who the custodians of the files were when they went missing.
The law allows an investigation agency or officer to search and seize records vital to an investigation.
On August 30, the Supreme Court, which is monitoring the probe in the scandal that has come to be known as Coalgate, hit out at the ministry for losing crucial files and wondered if it was an attempt to destroy evidence.
The court gave the ministry two weeks to make all the documents available to the probe agency.
The ministry has set up a special team to look for the files and has asked it to work even over the weekends.
The team has till September 15 to locate the files.
As reported by HT, among the papers the CBI is waiting for are the applications, financial details of bidders who applied for blocks between 2006 and 2008 and screening committee meetings’ minutes. The minutes are vital to establish the criterion used in granting coal blocks. Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh held the coal portfolio from 2006-09.
“We are still trying to locate the files and have not lodged an FIR because we don’t know whether the files have been misplaced or whether they have been stolen,” a ministry official told HT.
The CBI says it has still not received some vital files and may be left with no choice but to exercise its powers of search and seizure. Ministry officials seemed resigned to it, if all the files were not found by September 15.
In a report last year, the national auditor estimated that the alleged arbitrary allocation of coal blocks from 2004-11 may have robbed the exchequer of revenues worth Rs. 1.86 lakh crore.