Coming down hard on the government over the missing Coalgate files, the Supreme Court gave it two weeks to make the crucial documents available to the CBI, wondering if it was an attempt to destroy evidence.
Parliament lost a number of work days during the on-going monsoon session, with an angry opposition demanding that the government come clean on the missing files. The impasse ended when the government agreed to an “intervention” by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who held the coal portfolio from 2006-2009.
A three-judge bench headed by justice RM Lodha directed that the relevant documents be handed over within two weeks to the probe agency. The court also asked why no FIR had been lodged even after three months of the files going missing.
If the files were not traceable, the court told the ministry of coal to inform the CBI within a week for “investigating” the matter.
As reported by HT on August 23, among the missing files is a Coal India Limited (CIL) report evaluating the financials of bidders who applied for blocks between 2006 and 2008, when Singh was in charge of the coal ministry.
The bench, which went through the CBI’s status report presented to it in a sealed cover, took strong exception to the ministry’s failure to hand over to the CBI the CIL report.
“Wherever financial aspects are concerned, files are missing. CIL reports are very important. Have you filed an FIR? These are official records. Is it an attempt to destroy evidence? Why haven’t you filed an FIR? Ultimately, truth has to be found,” the court said.
The Centre has already admitted before the SC that 189 of the 236 documents sought by the CBI, which is probing the alleged arbitrary allocation of coal blocks from 1993-2009, were “not-available”. Unhappy over the slow pace of the probe, the court told the CBI to pick up speed. “You (CBI) have to pick up some speed... You are still driving in the first gear. Yours is a huge task and all these need to reach the logical conclusion,” it said.
The court said while 85 blocks were allocated to 169 companies during 2006-2009, the status report only covered 37 companies. “How do you intend to pursue investigation about rest 132 companies?” the bench said, asking the CBI to file the next status report by October 22.
The agency told the court that the probe would be concluded by year-end.
The court fixed September 5 as the next date of hearing during which the Centre is likely to make submissions on the need for the government sanction for investigating a public servant in a corruption case — something the CBI is opposed to.
The court also referred to the ministry’s May communication -to the CBI -– also reported by HT -- in which it admitted not being able to trace the CIL reports that had final minutes of the 35th screening committee to allocate blocks.
Allocations during the committee meeting on September 7, 2007 are not only being probed but have also been challenged before the court.
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.