Hide and Seek in Coalgate Scam?

The Coalgate Scam has been a serious blot on the credibility and dignity of PM Manmohan Singh as the man who was termed as the sheep leading a pack of wolves has been alleged to be another wolf in the ever increasing pack. However, what caused more embarrassment to the man credited with the financial reform of the country in 1991, is the revelation that the CBI’s investigations were highly influenced by the then law minister, Ashwani Kumar, who was responsible for changing the report filed by CBI. The case was worsened when many important files were reported to missing which has hampered the investigation process by the CBI.

The entire saga and the story behind the missing files in the Coalgate scam appeared on the news headlines of the national media in the month of April. As per the directions of the Supreme Court, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had expidited the investigation process in the Coalgate scam. As such, the investigating organization asked the Ministry of Coal for certain files which contained important information about the FIRs filed. A total of 13 FIRs were filed against the illegal and unlawful way in which the various coal blocks in the country were allocated to miners. The files sought after by the CBI were supposed to provide important leads involved in the investigation process at the aftermath of these FIRs. In the month of May, the Coal Ministry replied to the CBI request that the files sought were missing from the archives.

It is reported that around 157 applications were submitted requesting for allocation of coal  blocks by various parties. The coal blocks allotted right from 1993 to the year 2009 are being probed under the scam. This includes around 45 blocks allotted during 1993 to 2004 and 11 blocks allotted between 2006 and 2009. More than 300 files sought by the CBI related to these allocations are said to be missing as proper records of the dealings have not been documented and kept. Due to the long tenure in which the investigation process is on, the primary opposition, BJP and its NDA allies have also been dragged to the category of accused as it was in power from 1998 to 2004. This has led to the dragging of the erstwhile NDA government into a mud slinging activity and has given rise to a blame game between the government and opposition leading to frequent disruptions of the Parliament in the monsoon session.

It is important to take into account the authorities which are responsible to document the allocation records and maintain a file of them. Coal allocation sections are responsible for maintaining all records related to allocation of coal blocks. Only when a senior bureaucrat has made notes on it and asked for comments of another can files be moved from one section to the other for discussion and approval. The allocation sections are controlled by directors supported by under secretaries in the Ministry of Coal. So, considering the tenure of the investigation process, where both the government in power and the opposition stay under scrutiny, it is also seen as a step to put the bulk of the blame on the bureaucratic forces operating in the Coal Ministry.

The CBI who did not get a favourable reply from the government, complained of lack of cooperation. The government decided to lend a deaf year to the CBI request and instead constituted its own committee to probe the case related to the missing files. The committee was flayed by all the stakeholders as there was no need for the government to go on an investigation spree in spite of the presence of an able agency like the CBI. Some government departments who could have copies of the files and applications have denied the presence of any such records. This also speaks of the lack of proper data recording in the governmental processes and offices as decisions are hardly based on facts.

Many important information pieces like hand written notes are also reportedly missing. Important pieces like hand written notes by concerned officials, minutes of meetings, objections raised and other relevant annexures pertaining to various issues in the allocation process of the coal blocks could also not be found. The missing of these data is considered surprising as hardly a meeting of the top officials involving under secretaries to the government departments is concluded with a proper minutes of meeting.

It is interesting how the accuser (the opposition) has been put under the scanner by extending the period of allocation. The same principle was followed during the 2G scam. What remains to be seen however, is the speed and freedom with which the CBI proceeds and concludes the case.

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