The Central Bureau of Investigation and the Centre were at loggerheads on the coalgate scam in the Supreme Court on Tuesday with the agency pointing out irregularities in the coal block allocation during the United Progressive Alliance-I tenure and the government vehemently refuting the allegations.
In a status report filed by the CBI in the scam, the agency said that the coal block allocation during 2006-09 was done without verifying the credentials of companies which allegedly misrepresented facts about themselves.
A three-judge bench headed by Justice R M Lodha, which went through the report filed in a sealed cover, said that the report prima facie alleges irregularities, but the Attorney General G E Vahanvati aggressively hit back on the finding saying, "The CBI is not the final word on this".
Vahanvati, however, clarified that the government has no problem with the CBI probe and pleaded the court to supply him with some part of the probe report on which he would respond. "I am not trying to pre-empt the inquiry. I have no problem with it. Let CBI probe the allocation," the AG said.
The bench said the government should make a statement cautiously as it might affect the ongoing CBI probe in the case. "Any of your comments must not prejudice CBI inquiry in the case. If you are challenging the very conspiracy angle of the controversy, then it would affect the probe," the bench, also comprising justices J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur, said.
The bench further directed the government to explain why a small group of companies have been ‘picked and chosen’ for allocation of coal blocks out of the large number of companies that applied for it.
The court also asked the CBI director to file an affidavit that the status report submitted by the agency on March 8 was ‘vetted by him and not shared with political executives’ and the same will be followed in future.
The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by various members of civil society including former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami, ex-Navy chief L Ramdas and former Cabinet Secretary T S R Subramanian and advocate M L Sharma seeking a SIT probe into the coal block allocation scam.
During the hearing, when it was told that the apex court appointed central empowered committee can also be involved in the inquiry, the bench said it was not going into individual cases, as it was not required.
"We are not on individual case broadly. It has to be seen that whether guidelines were followed or not. The entire allocation goes if no procedure was followed," the bench observed.
The bench also observed that procedure followed prima facie does not seem to be proper legal procedure. "Therefore, I just want to know whether the entire factual position has been stated (in government's affidavit) or something more is to be said," the court said.
On January 24, the apex court had questioned the Centre's power to allocate coal blocks to companies, saying it has a lot of ‘legal explanation’ to do as the statutory Act empowers only the states to undertake this task.
The court had said that the Centre cannot undermine the Mines and Minerals Act which has given no power to it to allocate coal block to companies. The court's remarks came after the CBI had informed it that investigations into the coal block allocations have established irregularities by government authorities in allocation of the natural resources and around 300 companies are under its scanner.
In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the agency had said that it is taking up the probe against each and every company which has been allocated coal block since 1993 and ‘in particular during the period 2006 to 2008’.
The agency had also placed before the apex court a list of the companies and their directors against whom a first information report has so far been lodged. The agency had said that it is not revealing all information of its probe in order to ‘preserve the confidentiality and integrity of the inquiry’.
The affidavit was filed in response to the apex court order which had directed it to file comprehensive reply on the alleged irregularities in the coal blocks allocation.