Says Ministry has not responded to its earlier question regarding fraudulent claims
After the Supreme Court and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), it is now the turn of a Constitutional body — the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) — to question the failure of the Coal Ministry to provide documentary evidence justifying allocation of coal blocks in a fair and objective manner to deserving applicants.
“The Ministry of Coal has not yet furnished any documentary evidence which justifies that the coal blocks were allocated in a fair and objective manner to most deserving applicants. If no such documentary evidence is available with the Ministry, the same may be categorically be stated,” the PAC has said in Post-Evidence Questionnaire on Allocation of Coal Blocks and Augmentation of Coal Production based on the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report sent to the Coal Ministry for categorical replies.
In fact, sources in the Coal Ministry indicated that a number of coal blocks under the scanner involved two sitting Congress MPs and their relatives.
In what could mean further embarrassment for the UPA II government, the PAC has said the Ministry has not responded to its earlier specific question regarding the detection of fraudulent claims and forged documents, based on which certain private sector companies were allocated coal blocks. “The PAC has been apprised that out of the total allocation of 218 coal blocks, 55 companies were allocated more than one block. Out of these 55 companies, 28 belong to the private sector,” the questionnaire states.
Seeking to pick holes in the submissions made by the Ministry before the PAC, the Committee has sought a categorical reply from the Ministry as to why such gross irregularities could not be detected and what was the inbuilt mechanism for verification of documents submitted by the applicants. In fact, the PAC was informed that representatives of the State government concerned were invited for a meeting of the Screening Committee which made recommendations for allocation of coal blocks. However, the Chief Secretary, Odisha, informed the Committee that the government was neither represented on the Screening Committee nor were its views/suggestions taken into consideration while allocating coal blocks, indicating the arbitrary manner in which allocations were made.
The Chief Secretary has also submitted before the Committee that the rationale for allocation of blocks to private companies was too ambiguous. “One company from Andhra Pradesh was allocated coal blocks in Odisha for merchant mining and the reasons for arbitrary allocation of coal blocks were not communicated to the State government,” he has stated.
Referring to the meeting of the 35th Screening Committee, the questionnaire has stated that the minutes of the meeting do not contain evidence depicting that the Committee actually assessed the applications in regard to the matters such as techno-economic clearance feasibility of the end-use project, status of preparedness to set up the end-use project, past track record in execution of projects, financial and technical capabilities of the applicant companies, and recommendations of the State governments and the Administrative Ministry concerned.
It also did not contain evidence depicting that the Screening Committee recommended the allocation of coal blocks in a fair and objective manner to the most deserving applicants — like a comparative evaluation sheet of all the applicants applying for coal blocks. “In view of the lack of above documentary evidence, the Screening Committee minutes fail to justify the allocation of coal blocks in a fair and objective manner to most deserving applicant[s],” the questionnaire states.