There is nothing given to them. Deficiency in decisions taken by panel: Justice Lodha

The Supreme Court on Wednesday pulled up the Coal Ministry for not providing required material to the CBI for properly conducting the probe into coal block allocations.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph, after perusing the latest status report of the CBI, expressed concern over the lack of cooperation between the agency and the Ministry. The Bench directed the Centre to file a comprehensive affidavit justifying the 164 coal block allocations that were being probed.

The Bench was hearing petitions filed by advocate Manoharlal Sharma and others seeking a probe into coal allocations.Mr. Sharma and counsel Prashant Bhushan filed their responses to the Centre’s affidavit on CBI autonomy.

Justice Lodha told Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati: “Just a reading of the first three paras of the status report shows that the CBI is struggling with the probe in the absence of documents on the decision taken by the screening committee on coal blocks allocation. There is nothing given to them. There is lot of deficiency/infirmity in the decisions taken by the committee. Regarding everything, there is nothing on record. I am sorry to say that the Union of India does not have basic documents.”

“No system to verify facts”

Justice Lodha said the procedure adopted by the Ministry and the committee for allocation of blocks was arbitrary. “There was no material about the decision-making process and the minutes were either not maintained or were sketchy. There has been no system in place to verify the facts. There was lack of transparency in allocation. A point-based system, which was touched upon in 2006, was not considered further.”

The judge pointed out that discussions on the screening committee were not recorded in the file; application and feedback forms were inadequately designed; there was no system of obtaining supporting documents; allocations were made in the absence of recommendations by the State governments and in some cases recommendations of States/authority were changed in the middle; there had been no system in place to verify the facts.

The AG said that out of 204 coal block allocations made, 40 were de-allocated. He said 132 allocations were made by the screening committee and the other 72 by the government dispensation.

Taking note of the AG’s submissions, the Bench directed the Centre to file a comprehensive affidavit supported by documents, records and minutes of meetings. The court also asked for records of all 36 steering committee meetings explaining the procedure adopted for the allocation of 164 coal blocks.

CBI autonomy issue

After going through the affidavit filed by the Centre on certain changes to be made in the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act to give more functional autonomy to the CBI, the Bench said, “The DSPE Act will have to be amended to give more autonomy to the CBI and ultimately Parliament will have to debate and approve suggestions made by the members to free the agency from political control.”

When Justice Lodha wanted to know from the AG as to when the proposed amendments would be carried out, Mr. Vahanvati said “these amendments would be placed in Parliament in the monsoon session and would be referred to the parliamentary standing committee.”

The Bench asked Mr. Vahanvati to respond to its query: “Why sanction of the government is necessary in respect of court-monitored or court-directed investigation?” The Bench also wanted to know from the AG: “Why clarification should not be made that sanction for investigation of offences alleged to have been committed under the Prevention of Corruption Act was necessary from the government when the government’s stand was that the power of supervision for investigation had already been shifted from government to CVC pursuant to direction issued by this court in Vineet Narain case.”

Earlier, Additional Solicitor General Siddharth Luthra, who replaced senior advocate Uday Lalit, recused himself from appearing for the CBI, after the AG said no law officer should be involved with the agency in this case. He said he would ask the CBI to engage another lawyer on the next date of hearing. The Bench asked the CBI to file its response to the Centre’s affidavit by July 16 and posted the matter to July 17.

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