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HindustanTimes Thu,27 Nov 2014

Coalgate hits PMO, officials questioned

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, June 18, 2013
First Published: 20:26 IST(18/6/2013) | Last Updated: 01:53 IST(19/6/2013)

The probe into alleged irregularities in coal block allocations between 2006 and 2009 reached the doorstep of the prime minister's office on Tuesday with the CBI recording the statements of two former officials.

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Investigators may, at a later stage, also seek clarifications from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's adviser TKA Nair in the case, which has come to be known as Coalgate and has caused a great deal of embarrassment to the government.

The agency has summoned former coal secretary Harish Chandra Gupta as an accused. He is to be questioned on Thursday.

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The CBI denied that it was planning to call in Nair. "Reports to the effect that the CBI is set to summon a senior official in the PMO are baseless and incorrect," an agency spokesperson said.

The PM held the coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009 and Nair was his principal secretary.

The Supreme Court, which came down hard on the agency, is keeping a close watch on the investigations. The probe is gathering pace as the CBI has to tell the court about the status of the case on July 10. The same day the government has to apprise the court about the steps taken for the CBI autonomy.

Vini Mahajan, a 1987-batch IAS officer, was the first to be questioned followed by Ashish Gupta, an IPS officer. Both were with the PMO between 2006 and 2009

"You can ask anything about health department," Mahajan, who is now principal secretary of health in Punjab, told HT when reached for comment.

Gupta, who is serving as IG, special task force, UP, couldn't be reached for comments despite repeated attempts. He was the vigilance officer with the PMO.

"We sought clarifications from Mahajan as she handled coal ministry's files while serving in the PMO," said a senior CBI official. The two officers were witnesses in the case, the officer said.

Former coal secretary Gupta, who recently quit as competition commission member after the government gave its nod to the CBI to question him, is likely to be asked about the clearances for the allocation of blocks, including the one to Congress MP Navin Jindal's firms, given by the screening committee that he chaired on several occasions.


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