The Centre on Thursday admitted before the Supreme Court that something went wrong in the allocation of coal blocks and they could have been done in a more “refined” manner.
“In hindsight, we can say something has gone wrong and some correction is required to be done,” attorney general GE Vahanvati told a three-judge bench headed by justice RM Lodha. Vahanvati also said that he had advised the government to consider de-allocation of the 32 coal blocks given to private companies during 2005-2009. A decision on it would be taken next week, he told the bench.
The SC is hearing a bunch of public interest litigations challenging coal block allocations made during the UPA regime and is also monitoring a CBI probe into the ‘coalgate’ scam.
The allocations were made without framing any rules or policy, Vahanvati told the bench. However, he defended the allocations, saying: “this does not make it arbitrary” as the decisions taken were in good faith and in national interest.
The BJP was quick to demand Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation.
“The attorney general has accepted that something major was wrong in the coal block allocations. The onus is now on the Prime Minister as he held the coal portfolio from 2006 to 2009 when the allocations were made. He should own up responsibility and resign,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
Congress spokesperson Meem Afzal dismissed the demand, saying, “It is the habit of the BJP to seek the resignation of the Prime Minister. We do not pay heed to it.”
The attorney general later told a TV channel that there was “no question” of admitting anything was wrong. “Obviously, if something could have done in a better way retrospectively, I can’t be foolish enough to say it can’t be done in a better way,” he told the channel.
On Wednesday, the attorney general had told the SC that de-allocation of the contentious coal blocks could be considered as work was yet to start in those projects. He was, however, strongly opposed to the idea of revoking the allocation of 29 blocks allotted prior to 2005 because substantial investments had been made in those projects.
Vahanvati criticised seven states for holding the Centre solely responsible for the coal “mess.” The final decision to grant a mining lease or license was that of the state government, he said. “It is incorrect to say that their role was formal. There are several cases where allocations have been made but states haven’t given licenses,” he said.
At this, the court again confronted the AG as to why the government wasn’t de-allocating the blocks. “You admit allocation letter is not bankable. It does not confer any right… Then what are you waiting for?” the court asked Vahanvati.