What lies beneath

Despite being monitored by the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the coal block allocations, which were done between 1993 and 2009, has not been smooth. Crucial files have gone missing and states are not giving sanctions to the CBI to investigate joint-venture allocations. That is not all: investigators officers were removed midway due to allegations of corruption. Besides, the CBI is still reeling from the aftershocks of the meeting between former Union law minister Ashwani Kumar and the CBI director, Ranjit Sinha, which resulted in Mr Kumar’s exit from the Cabinet. It was alleged that the former minister vetted the draft probe report that was to be submitted to the Supreme Court (SC). The court had held that a large part of the coal block allocation probe status report was changed after the meeting between Mr Kumar and the CBI director.

The CBI has found out that files pertaining to the allocation of around four dozen coal blocks (made between 1993 and 2004) are untraceable. A few more crucial files of when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held the charge of the ministry (2006 and 2009) are also missing. The most important of these files were on screening committee meetings that recommended the allocation of coal blocks to applicant companies. Another hurdle in the probe is the non-cooperation of the state governments. So far only two — Jharkhand and Kerala — out of 20 states — have given sanctions to the CBI for probing joint ventures between state-owned companies and private operators.  The rest of the states including two BJP-ruled major mining states — Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — are yet to give sanctions despite reminders.

The CBI needs to do much more to convince the public that its investigations are on track and the government needs to ensure that its departments cooperate with the investigations. The SC’s vigilance is as required today as it was when it first intervened.

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