CBI investigation focuses only on misrepresentations of a few firms: petitioners

The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Centre and the CBI on a public interest litigation (PIL) petition by a group of prominent citizens and Common Cause, a non-government organisation seeking cancellation of the allocation of captive coal blocks from 1993 and for a direction to order a probe by a special investigation team .

The petitioners are: T.S.R. Subramanian, former Cabinet Secretary; N. Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner; Ramaswamy R. Iyer, former Secretary, Government of India; Admiral (retd.) R.H. Tahiliani; Sushil Tripathi, former Secretary, Government of India, and Admiral (retd.) L. Ramdas.

A Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and Anil R. Dave heard counsel Prashant Bhushan for the petitioners and the Attorney-General for the Centre.

The Bench asked the AG to submit a comprehensive affidavit in eight weeks on the PIL plea as well as on the one filed earlier by advocate M.L. Sharma. The Bench directed that the plea be tagged with Mr. Sharma’s petition and listed for hearing on January 24.

The petitioners said: “The show cause notices issued by the government [just as in the 2G case] to a few companies are a sham since they obfuscate the real issue that the allocation was per se illegal. The current CBI investigation focuses only on the misrepresentations made by a select few companies rather than the allocation process itself. This is not surprising since the CBI works as a department of the Central government, and here Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was directly in charge of the Ministry of Coal for most of the time.”

Under these circumstances, the petitioners said, they prayed for a thorough court-monitored investigation to unearth the full magnitude of the coal scam, “which involves not only the Ministry of Coal but also the PMO [in charge of the Ministry of Coal for intermittent period from 2004 to 2009], the Ministry of Steel, the Ministry of Power and various governments of various States where the coal blocks are located.”

They said: “According to the conservative estimates made by the CAG, the allocation between 2004 and 2010 caused a windfall gain of Rs. 1.86-lakh crore to private companies, making it bigger than the 2G scam. There was also a related loss to the public exchequer. Various political and commercial vested interests joined forces to block competitive bidding [auction] of coal blocks. The blocks were allocated almost for free to the private players in the name of ‘catering to the need of growing demand of coal in power, cement and steel industries.”

Considering the magnitude of investigation and the possibility of involvement of high public offices, including the PMO, and the fact that the CBI functioned under the very same government it was supposed to investigate, a court-monitored investigation by a SIT was required to ensure proper investigation, the petitioners said.

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