Is there an attempt by the Coal Ministry to destroy records in the coal blocks allocation case, the Supreme Court asked and made it clear on Thursday that the Central Bureau of Investigation must register a First Information Report and probe the “missing files” on receipt of a report from the government.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, Madan B. Lokur and Kurian Joseph did not accept the submission of Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati, who described the “missing documents and files” as a “controversy.” Justice Lodha told him: “It is too mild a statement. We want to know whether it is an attempt to destroy the records. Why is there no clear information on the missing files? The missing files are vital for the probe and truth must come out. You [government] cannot do like this. Your explanation that files are being searched is not reasonable.”

Justice Lodha told the AG: “You cannot sit over the documents. All documents which are necessary have to be made available. Many documents, minutes of meetings, draft minutes of meetings of the screening committee are yet to be provided to CBI. We are making it very clear that it cannot go on like this. There can't be any justification for not providing them. This will not help anyone.”

The Bench said: “Before the CBI conducts a probe into the case, we grant time to the Centre to find out the missing files. If files are not available, then you lodge a complaint with the CBI.”

Justice Lodha said: “Record of [a] government office should not go anywhere. One original file is a guard file which does not go anywhere. One has to work overtime to find out but it must be done.”

The judge made it clear to the AG and Solicitor-General Mohan Parasaran that there could not be any justification for the files going missing. The CBI probe must be done despite an inter-ministerial committee, formed by the Centre, looking into the issue. “It is an external committee. We are not concerned about it.”

When the AG said the government would cooperate with the CBI, Justice Lodha retorted, “Who stopped you from doing so for the last four months”?

The Bench, in its order, directed the CBI to give within five days a comprehensive list of missing documents and records needed, and the government must hand over the documents sought by the CBI within two weeks thereafter. The Centre should submit a report to the CBI on the missing or destroyed files within a week thereafter to enable the agency to conduct a proper investigation.

Justice Lodha said that since the missing documents pertained to financial aspects of coal allocations, “it cannot be left as it is.”

The Bench also referred to the disappearance of a PMO's reference letter to the Coal Ministry on Congress MP Vijay Darda’s alleged recommendations for coal block allocations to some firms. Why was no FIR lodged on the missing document? the judge asked.

Pulling up the CBI for slow progress of enquiry into Coalgate, the Bench directed it complete the probe in respect of all 169 companies allegedly involved in the scam by December 31, 2013.

Arguments relating to sanction will continue on September 5.