Coalgate: SC pulls up govt for failure to respond
The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the government for not responding "comprehensively" on alleged coal block allocation irregularities and has asked it to file records of all 36 steering committee meetings.
New Delhi: The Centre Wednesday faced the ire of the Supreme Court for not aiding the CBI with documents in its probe in Coalgate and was directed to file a comprehensive affidavit "justifying" allocation of 164 coal blocks.
The apex court, which perused the latest status report filed by the CBI in a sealed cover, said that the agency was "struggling" in its probe in the absence of documents not being supplied to it relating to the allocation of 204 coal blocks out of which 40 have been de-allocated.
A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said there was "lack of transparency" in the coal blocks allocation and "there was no system in place to verify the application of the companies and working of the screening committee appears to be sketchy".
"Regarding everything there is nothing on record. CBI is struggling as there are no documents in its possession," Justice Lodha said, adding, "I am sorry to say that the Union of India does not have basic documents."
"Had it been with you (Centre), it would have helped the CBI in its investigation," the judge said. The probe report indicated "a lot of deficiencies and infirmities" in the coal blocks allocation," he added.
The bench asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to respond to its two queries "why sanction of government is necessary in respect of court-monitored or court-directed investigation."
"This query is put to Attorney General in view of a categorical stand taken by the CBI before the Delhi High Court in a matter in which CBI counsel submitted that as the investigation was directed by the court, grant of sanction for prosecution is not necessary under section 6 of the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act," the bench said.
The bench also wanted to know from the Attorney General "why clarification should not be made that sanction for investigation of offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act is necessary from the government when the government's stand is that the power of supervision for investigation has already been shifted from government to CVC pursuant to direction issued by this court in Vineet Narain case."
The hearing in the matter was not free from controversy as Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, who replaced senior advocate U U Lalit, withdrew from appearing for CBI after the Attorney General opined that no law officer should be involved with the agency in this case.
Vahanvati said he was not in the favour of law officers being engaged by the CBI in view of the controversy of sharing of probe report which forced the then ASG Haren Raval to resign. He said CBI should independently choose its lawyer to represent it in the matter.
The bench, which also went through the Centre's affidavit on the steps taken to bring out functional autonomy of the CBI and to insulate it from external influences, said "the proposed amendments in the DSPE Act shall obviously take some time".
However, it said it was "concerned urgently" with the non-partisan investigation by the CBI and asked the agency to respond by July 16 to the Centre's proposal.
When the court's attention was drawn to the CBI plea for allowing it to share probe reports with government for purposes including the need for sanction, it said "under the garb of sanction, we won't allow the CBI to share the contents of probe report with political executive".
The bench, which asked the Centre to file within four weeks a comprehensive affidavit justifying allocation of 164 coal blocks, said, "The question is that the very process and decision making on allocation of coal blocks by screening committee is not supported by documents".
The bench, also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, asked the Centre "to place before it all documents, records and minutes of the 36 meetings of screening committee to justify the allocation of coal blocks".
"If you have not done, you must do it. Otherwise the entire exercise would be meaningless. We are concerned with decision taken in each and every case. The question is whether the decision was taken correctly or not and whether there were objective considerations or not," the bench said.
The bench made it clear that it would like to have placed before it entire documents and minutes of all 36 meetings of the screening committee and it would "not like to hear that they have been destroyed".
The judges said there was a need for justifying all the allocations for which the decisions were taken at the screening committee as "the CBI still continues to have the same position as the records are not available to it" and its status report also indicated that "recommendations of state governments were changed mid-way".
The bench, which was not satisfied with the Centre's response on the issue, said, "All along, we have been telling that you should come out with a comprehensive reply."
It took exception to the Centre only preferring to file counter affidavit on six questions which were raised by it on September 14, 2012, while hearing the petition filed by advocate Manohar Lal Sharma.
Later, the ambit of the matter was expanded and more questions were raised to which there were no responses.
The bench said it would consider on July 17 CBI's two seperate applications in which it has sought modification of its May 8 direction to lift the bar on sharing the probe report and removing the restriction on changing the 33 member investigating team.