The missing Coalgate files could well be part of a huge cover up operation. But the spiral of it may just prove to be too hot to the Manmohan Singh government to handle both legally and politically.
Adding to the woes of the government on the issue is a Supreme Court Order issued on 6 August. The order makes it fairly clear that the bench was already seized of the matter and has asked the CBI to submit its status report by 25 August for a hearing scheduled on 27 August:
“As regards ongoing inquiry/investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the matters relating to allocation of coal blocks, we have made it clear earlier and we reiterate today that any information that may be required and official files and records that may be found necessary for the inquiry/investigation by the CBI, shall be supplied to them without any delay by the concerned person. CBI will furnish the fresh report in respect of status of inquiry/investigation up to 25.8.2013 by 27.8.2013.”
A conceal all statement by a defiant coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal will not do any good. All eyes will be on the Supreme Court when it takes up the matter next Tuesday to see what observations it makes, or what orders it issues. While the Court’s observations will be purely on legal technical grounds, it may well give the opposition fresh ammunition to target the government in the closing days of the Monsoon session of Parliament. The session ends next Friday.
Besides, the Supreme Court, the Public Accounts Committee of the Parliament, headed by Murli Manohar Joshi has asked for a list of missing files from the Coal Ministry. The committee has also sent a reminder to the ministry in this regard. Incidentally, the issue of missing files had come to light when the PAC started examining the CBI and coal ministry officials three months ago. The CBI chief told the PAC that hundreds of files that they had sought from the ministry had not reached them and were believed to be missing. This was then confirmed by the coal secretary.
The committee is focusing on the allocations made to various private parties between 2006-09, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was minister in charge of Coal. It was on the quick prompting of Prakash Javdekar (who is a member of the PAC and one of the whistleblowers in Coalgate), that Arun Jaitley, leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, asked the Coal Minister the following pointed question: “I have a specific question, is no file subsequent to 2004 missing?”
Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal who was, until then, aggressively stating that the missing files were all related to incidents prior to 2004, came up with an evasive answer that the matter was with the CBI.
The BJP is now mulling whether to pursue a case of privilege and misleading the House against Jaiswal. “The evidence of the crime is in these files. Now, obviously, those who are being targeted by the investigation will have an interest that if the evidence disappears, that is, the files disappear, the possibility of their escaping punishment for the crime would also be there”, Jaitley said.
The opposition BJP has sensed a great opportunity to corner the government just when Congress is going gaga over the hugely populist Food Security Bill. When the parliament opens today after the Raksha Bandhan holiday, we will undoubtedly see yet another stormy scene with the BJP seeking a statement and clarification from the Prime Minister.
A statement by the Prime Minister made on 27 August 2012 in Parliament may further complicate the issue for the Congress floor managers. “I seek your indulgence to depart from this established procedure because of the nature of the allegations that are being made and because I was holding the charge of Coal Minister for a part of the time covered by the Report. I want to assure hon. Members that as the Minister in charge, I take full responsibility for the decisions of the Ministry”, the PM had then stated.
The statement was made during the height of the Coalgate controversy. The Prime Minister then took a moral high ground owning responsibility to down the temperatures since both he and Congress believed that a corruption charge would not stick on him. Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj is now reminding the Prime Minister of the same statement and pressing her party’s demand to have him respond.
Though the exact numbers of missing files is not yet known, senior BJP leaders peg it at around 165, and a number of media reports suggest that despite Jaiswal's claims they belong to the 2006-09 period, which is the most critical period under scrutiny.
A Mail Today story said the missing files relate to big players linked to the Congress party. The most interesting part is that these files include 11 of 13 cases in which FIR has been registered by the CBI. The newspaper quoted CBI director Ranjit Sinha as saying “missing files will be a big setback to the Coalgate investigation….We have not been intimated officially on the files, but it is a matter of concern that only relevant files go missing from the coal ministry.”
Asked if he thought it was sabotage, Sinha said, “It definitely points to something fishy, I don’t know how this happened, but you can draw your own conclusions from this. We will inform the apex court on 27 August 27 on the status and seek directions. We have asked for some other files also, let’s see what the response of the government is on this.”
Of the 13 companies against whom the CBI filed FIRs, files related to 11 are reportedly missing. Sample this: M/s AMR Iron & Steel Private Limited, Nagpur: Allocated Bander block in Maharashtra on May 29, 2009, has close ties to Congress MP Vijay Darda. The directors are Arvind Kumar Jayaswal, Manoj Jayaswal, Ramesh Jayaswal and Devendra Darda. Another Darda company’s files are also missing. The company is M/ s JLD Yavatmal Energy Limited, Nagpur. It was allocated Fatehpur East Block in Chhattisgarh on January 23, 2008. The directors are Vijay Darda, Rajendra Darda, Devendra Darda, Manoj Jayaswal, Anand Jayaswal, Abhishek Jayaswal.
Other lost files are related to screening committee meetings, recommendations of states and PSUs’/ companies’ presentations these were required to establish irregularities in allocation of coal blocks to private companies as well as joint ventures with government entities, Mail Today listed.
An Indian Express report said these include files related to policy decisions such as continuing with the screening committee procedure instead of accepting the TL Shanker committee's recommendations in 2004 to auction the blocks.
Other missing documents include the report of Coal India Ltd's financial experts on the 35th screening committee's meeting pertaining to allocations made in 2007 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held charge of the coal portfolio. This report dealt with the financial aspects of the projects for which blocks were allocated and could throw light on whether the mines were given to the deserving. Interestingly, there is no denial by the Government on these newspaper reports.
The Coal Minister is hiding much more than what he said yesterday in Rajya Sabha. The question is why is satisfied just by constituting a committee headed by a babu from his own ministry to look into the matter and whose interest he is trying to protect.