The Supreme Court was moved on Thursday by NGOs seeking the cancellation of all coal blocks allocated to private companies from 1993 to 2012 and demanding a court-monitored investigation into the issue.
The public interest litigation sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a special investigation team (SIT) into the allocation of coal blocks and its monitoring by the court.
The petition was filed by NGO Common Cause, former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami, former navy chief RH Tahiliani, former secretaries to government Ramasamy R Iyer and Sushil Tripathi.
The petition alleged the government went in for massive allocation of coal blocks to a few select private companies at no cost in a "completely arbitrary and non-transparent manner, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer running into tens of lakhs of crores of rupees".
The allocation of coal blocks for commercial exploitation at below-market price was in "breach of public trust" and thus was "illegal and liable to be cancelled".
The "whole process of allocation of coal blocks is tainted by bribery and corruption and made in flagrant violation of the established norms and procedures that render it illegal", the petition said.
Alleging that the investigation being carried out by the CBI was a sham, the petition said that "the show-cause notices issued by the government (just as in the 2G case) to few companies are a sham since they obfuscate the real issue that the allocation was per se illegal".
The current CBI investigation "only focuses on the misrepresentations made by a select few companies rather than the allocation process itself", said the petition.
Targeting the prime minister for the dishonest investigation being carried out by the CBI into the mater, the petition said: "This is not surprising since the CBI works as a department of the central government, and here the prime minister was directly in charge of the ministry of coal for most of the time."
While seeking the quashing of all the coal blocks given to private companies, the petition urged the court to declare void all the joint ventures between public sector undertakings holding coal blocks and private companies.