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Coalgate: Ex-MoS Santosh Bagrodia ‘prima facie committed criminal misconduct’

A file photo of former Minister of State for Coal Santosh Bagrodia.   | Photo Credit: Ashoke Chakrabarty

Former Minister of State for coal Santosh Bagrodia, ex-coal secretary H.C. Gupta and an official of the Coal Ministry prima facie committed criminal misconduct and facilitated AMR Iron & Steel to obtain a coal block “unlawfully”, a special court on Friday said.

The court observed this while directing the CBI to further probe a coal blocks allocation scam case in which the agency has charged Rajya Sabha MP Vijay Darda, his son Devendra Darda, AMR Iron and Steel director Manoj Jayaswal and the firm, as accused.

“It is thus prima facie clear from the overall facts and circumstances of the case that Ministry of Coal (MoC) officers namely L.S. Janoti, section officer; H.C. Gupta, Secretary MoC and Chairman Screening Committee along with Minister of State for coal Santosh Bagrodia, prima facie committed the offence of criminal misconduct under section 13 (1) (d) read with section 13 (2) of Prevention of Corruption Act...,” Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar said.

The court, in its order, noted that these three persons allegedly entered into a conspiracy with private parties involved in the allocation of the Bander coal block in Maharashtra to AMR Iron and Steel and thereby “facilitated” the firm to obtain the block unlawfully.

It also said officers of the MoC, the screening committee and Mr. Bagrodia “prima facie acted in a manner which was detrimental to public interest and thereby in the process allowed M/s AMR to misappropriate important nationalised natural resources of the country i.e. coal.”

Noting that of these three persons found to be prima facie involved and against whom cognisance need to be taken, only Mr. Janoti was still in active government service, the court said prior sanction of the competent authority was required to prosecute him for the offence punishable under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

It directed the CBI to further investigate the case and place the records before the sanctioning authority so that they may consider the question of according sanction to prosecute Mr. Janoti.

The court has now fixed the matter for filing of progress report of further investigation on February 13, 2015.

The court, in its order, also noted that even the officers of the Prime Minister’s Office who dealt with the matter did not pay attention to facts and proceeded on the basis of MoC’s noting in the case.

“In fact even in the PMO, the officers dealing with the matter paid no attention to the facts and simply proceeded on the basis of noting coming from MoC. Certainly it was their bounden duty to carefully go through the entire record lest they were misled by any wrong noting coming from MoC,” it said.

It said that recommendations of 36th Screening Committee to allot the Bander coal block jointly to AMR Iron and Steel Century Textile & Industries and J.K. Cement were sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was then also the Coal Minister, and a conditional approval was granted by the PMO.

“In fact when the conditional approval was granted by the Prime Minister as Minister of Coal to initial recommendation of the screening committee then it was specifically mentioned that in case MOC is satisfied that any of the proposed allottee has been responsible for undue delay in development of blocks allotted to them earlier, the matter regarding their proposed present allocation be referred back to the Minister of Coal for orders,” it said.

The court observed that despite the fact that three senior officers dealt with the matter in the PMO and principal secretary to the PMO also had a meeting with the coal secretary but no one highlighted the “misrepresentation” made by AMR Iron and Steel and the consequent wrong noting made by the MoC officers.

“Be that as it may, it is however prima facie clear that the important nationalised natural resources of the country i.e. coal were allowed to be misappropriated by M/s AMR by the public servants involved in the process of coal block allocation in pursuance to a well hatched criminal conspiracy,” the judge said.

The court observed that after the Prime Minister had given conditional approval to the recommendation of screening committee with a specific direction, “then MoC officers and MoS (Coal) were all the more under a specific duty/direction to examine the claim of proposed allocatee companies.”

“In fact from the overall facts and circumstances, it appears that right from the beginning of coal block allocation process, there was a concerted joint effort on the part of the MoC officers including the screening committee to extend undue benefit to M/s AMR,” it said.

The judge also said the manner in which coal block was recommended to be allotted to the accused company by the screening committee also “raises eyebrows” and actions of MoC officers of making wrong noting in the file even subsequently, cannot be seen in isolation.

It said that during the probe, it was allegedly found that AMR had not only made false claims regarding its net worth and previous allocation of coal blocks in its initial application to the MoC but also in the feed back form submitted to screening committee and in the presentation made before it.

The judge said prima facie it appeared that a conspiracy was hatched right from beginning between the private parties i.e. M/s AMR and its directors Mr. Jayaswal and the public servants involved in the coal block allocation process.

“However, the MoC officers including the Minister for State for Coal continued in their efforts to help M/s AMR in procuring allocation of a coal block unjustifiably by making misleading note in the file and in the process concealing information about the performance of M/s AMR qua coal blocks earlier allotted to it knowing fully well that the same was not satisfactory,” it observed.

“I may however simply reiterate that from a bare perusal of the manner in which the entire process was undertaken by the MoC officers in the present matter, the dishonest intention is writ large on the face of it or in other words is evident on the face of record. Moreover for the offence of criminal misconduct by a public servant under section 13(1) (d)(iii) PC Act the existence of dishonest intention/mensrea is not even required,” the judge said.

Describing Mr. Gupta’s role, the court said he “consciously helped” AMR in suppressing the crucial information from the government and facilitated misappropriation of the natural resources of the country.

“In fact there prima facie appears to be a joint and concerted effort on his (Gupta) part along with L.S. Janoti and Santosh Bagrodia, the then MoS (Coal), in facilitating M/s AMR to obtain allocation of impugned coal block.

“Santosh Bagrodia was also well aware that equity holders of M/s AMR had been earlier also allotted a number of coal blocks,” the court said, adding, Bagrodia himself had asked for the share holding pattern of the firm and its commitment towards developing coal blocks along with specific milestones with time—lines for each milestone.

It said silence on Mr. Bagrodia part in not highlighting the true and actual facts on the file and rather forwarding the file to PMO by simply putting his signatures clearly “appears to be a conscious decision”.

The court said AMR has themselves admitted in the meeting held with MoS (coal) that six coal blocks were earlier allocated to its equity holders.

“Thus in these circumstances, the decision makers who were having dominion over the nationalised natural resources of the country i.e. coal blocks have to take responsibility of the consequences,” it said.

Regarding Gupta, the court said he prima facie also committed the offence of criminal breach of trust by a public servant punishable under section 409 of the IPC and that of criminal misconduct by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The CBI had earlier charged Mr. Vijay Darda, Mr. Devendra Darda, Mr. Jayaswal and the firm as accused for offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 420 (cheating) of IPC and under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The court had earlier granted bail to Mr. Vijay Darda, Mr. Devendra Darda and Mr. Jayaswal after they had appeared before it in pursuance to the summons issued against them.

Regarding AMR Iron and Steel, the CBI had claimed in its FIR that the firm, in its application form for allocation of coal blocks, had “fraudulently” concealed the fact that its group firms had previously been allocated five coal blocks.




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