Trace missing coal files in 26 days or face CBI probe: SC

NEW DELHI (TIP): Taking a serious view of the missing files and documents relating to coal block allocations, the Supreme Court on August 29 directed the Centre to trace these within 26 days or face a CBI probe. A three-member Bench headed by Justice RM Lodha asked the CBI to provide within five days the list of files and documents still awaited from the Union Coal Ministry to Attorney General GE Vahanvati who would forward it to the Centre. The agency is probing the alleged irregularities in the allocations.

Pointing out that the documents sought by the CBI were vital for taking the agency’s probe to its logical conclusion, the Bench asked the Ministry to submit all the available papers to the agency within two weeks thereafter. Within a week thereafter, the ministry would have to submit a report to the CBI listing the untraceable documents “for an investigation.” The Bench noted that the missing documents were very important for carrying forward the CBI probe as these contained crucial information relating to the companies that were allocated coal blocks for mining. The details included the companies’ eligibility/ ineligibility for seeking coal blocks and their financial status. The missing papers also included some of the letters written by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) while forwarding to the Coal Ministry the recommendations received from politicians for allocation of coal blocks to specific companies, the Bench noted while reading out portions of the CBI’s latest status report on its investigations.

During the hearing that lasted more than 2.5 hours, the Bench grilled the Centre as to why it was taking “months and months” for locating the missing documents. The CBI had registered the case about 15 months ago. Since the movement of government files was tracked on the computer, these could not go missing like this, it said. The Bench, which included Justices MB Lokur and Kurian Joeph, also asked the government as to why it had not filed an FIR so far about the missing documents. Only a probe would show whether the files had been stolen or destroyed. “You can’t sit on CBI’s request for files like this. You are not dealing with a private litigant to behave like this.” The apex court also found fault with the CBI for the slow progress in its probe. CBI’s investigations had covered only 37 of the 169 companies involved in the alleged scam, leaving the remaining 132 “untouched.

You are still driving in the first gear. When will you pick up speed?” it asked the three top CBI officials who were present in the court. The officials who are leading the probe assured the Bench that the agency would complete the investigations by the end of this year. The Centre had filed an affidavit in the SC on August 27, listing the missing documents and assuring the court that efforts were on to trace these within a month. The Bench is monitoring the CBI probe on PILs complaining that the CBI was deliberately going slow on the case at the instance of the Centre.

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