Nothing represents the near collapse of governance more acutely than the manner in which over 200 files pertaining to the controversial coal mining licences have gone missing. Indeed, what is most shocking is that the CBI is unable to trace these files even though identical copies are supposed to be lying in the custody of at least four Central ministries, not to speak of State governments from where the original recommendations for the coal block allocations came. Some 45 files relating to coal block allocations between 1993 and 2005 are missing from the ministries of coal, steel, power, industry and the relevant departments of the State governments. Another 157 missing files relate to the rejection of applications by the screening committee comprising members of all relevant Central government and State government departments. The screening committee would surely have recorded reasons for those rejections in those files based on certain criteria and guidelines. The CBI is trying to lay its hands on these files to see whether consistent guidelines were followed in granting or rejecting coal blocks. But the agency has received no help so far in tracing the missing papers, this despite the Supreme Court’s directive that the Central and State authorities share all relevant files with the CBI.

After the court’s directive, the government appointed a search committee consisting of members of various ministries. The search committee has also expressed its inability to trace the files. The minutes of the search committee proceedings, which are in The Hindu’s possession, are not without a touch of unintended black humour: at one place, the committee even suggests that the government should go back to each applicant to get the original details of their applications made over 10 years ago. Can one get more bizarre than this? Will an applicant who has illegally got a coal block share any information? Clearly, there appears to be a collective attempt to cover up the procedures adopted so that the allocations made from 1993 to 2005 cannot be probed. After The Hindu highlighted the search committee findings last week, the Opposition has demanded a thorough probe into the matter. The government has given an assurance that it will trace the missing papers and hand them over to the investigating authority. One doesn’t know whether the present conspiracy to cover up illegal coal allocations is so deep as to have actually removed every trace of the files in its wake. This will be known only after the probe is completed. But the fact that this could happen in a case that the Supreme Court is closely monitoring is a pointer to the high stakes that the truth must surely involve.

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