Just a week after filing cases in coal block allocation scam, CBI has begun probing alleged irregularities in the country's first-ever attempt to explore untapped mineral wealth worth thousands of crores lying in the deep sea bed, sensing another mega scam.
CBI sources said a preliminary enquiry has been registered by the agency in connection with the alleged favours extended to the companies by the unknown officials of the Indian Bureau of Mines while awarding licences for exploring minerals in the sea bed of Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.
It is alleged four beneficiaries companies owned by the family members of an Indian Revenue Service officer are also under the agency's scanner as they bagged nearly half of the blocks despite lacking necessary qualification, they said.
The sources said in March last year government, in a first attempt to explore offshore mineral wealth, had placed 62 blocks on offer out of which 28, nearly half, were bagged by companies owned by family members of the former Enforcement Directorate official who had also served in Mines Ministry.
The final award of licences had been put on hold after aggrieved parties approached the Bombay High Court and the Andhra Pradesh High Court seeking their cancellation. The companies allegedly owned by the son and brother of the officer are based at the same address on Kasturba Gandhi Marg in the national capital, they said.
It is alleged that companies were incorporated after bids were invited from the interested parties willing to go for exploration and did not have any experience in offshore mining at the time of notification
The CBI sources said it is a matter of probe how these companies with such alleged lacunae managed to score over rival firms which were in fray for the lucrative contracts. Sources claimed it has been alleged that at screening committee level the companies belonging to the kin of the officer scored much above the rival firms.
Indian Bureau of Mines, which works under the Ministry of Mines, had announced in March last year the list of companies that had won the bids of exploration of mineral wealth. However, the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court had stayed the execution after accepting the plea of Tamil Nadu-based company Rare (H) minerals.
"Controller General, Indian Bureau of Mines has issued a notification dated 7th June, 2010 inviting applications for the grant of Exploration Licence in the offshore areas of the country. 377 applications have been received in IBM for grant of exploration licence," the Ministry of Mines had said in a statement last year.
The sources said that each block measuring about 800 sq km is estimated to have huge unexplored mineral wealth in the sea bed of Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. A similar case is also going on in the Andhra Pradesh High Court after a company, Trimex Sands, challenged the award of exploration licence.