Coalgate: CBI to register PE; time for PM to get prepared?

CBI is going to register a PE in missing files case. It is going to treat the case as destruction of evidence under section 201. Should PM get worried?

Seems the Central Bureau of Investigation is finally going to do something rather than sitting like a lame duck as its critique insinuate. The CBI has decided to register two preliminary enquiries (PEs) to probe the missing coal block allocation files today.

As reported in the media, the agency had initially decided to file only FIRs after having meetings with ministry officials on Thursday. Since 18-20 files to the coal block allegations remain missing, it was decided during the course of discussion to register PEs in the first place which may later be converted into regular cases. It was argued that there was “no mala fide” in the matter.

CBI is going to treat the missing of documents as disappearance of evidence under Section 201 (destruction of evidence) under CrPC. It is going to be a part of the 13 FIRs already filed by the CBI in the case.

“The lodging of an FIR will entail naming of former and present officials of the Coal, Steel, Mines and Power Ministries and even those in the PMO who were instrumental in taking decisions in allocation of coal blocks. Fingers would also be pointed at officials in the State governments and that is the reason why Coal Ministry was reluctant to order a formal probe into the matter,’’ a senior CBI official was reported saying.

Both the CBI and Coal Ministry officials have zeroed down on nearly a dozen-odd files missing. The final list, though, will be compiled by the CBI and submitted to the Supreme Court which is monitoring the investigations. The agency is learnt to have said that they would wrap up the PE in four to six weeks and inform the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court had, while hearing the case on August 29, directed CBI to give a list of documents, files and information, sought by it, within five days to the Coal Ministry which, in turn, would furnish them within two weeks. The agency in its letter dated September 2 to Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati had given an exhaustive list of over 50 allocations.

On Monday, the Ministry had a large number of files/documents handed over to the CBI. But the CBI officials said that not all the files pertaining to the list they had submitted through the Attorney General had been found and sent by the ministry. The CBI had sought files which include allotments made to Tata Sponge Iron Private Limited, minutes of the 26th Screening Committee, allotment to Jharkhand Ispat Private Limited and Rathi Steel and Power.

The ministry informed the agency that three said files never existed.

Meanwhile, the coal ministry said that barring four files and nearly 15 documents, it had handed over all relevant documents to the CBI. “We were furnished a list of 157 documents which the CBI said were missing, and were needed for its investigation. We have retrieved 139 files/documents including the recommendation made by MP Vijay Darda for the Bander coal block in Maharashtra, allocated to AMR Iron and Steel and referred by the Prime Minister’s Office. We have handed over more than 80 documents, and 15 more are ready to be handed over to the CBI,” a top coal ministry official was quoted in Indian Express.

These documents were recovered from the premises of Coal India and its subsidiary, Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd (CMPDIL) in Ranchi following an intense search during the past 15 days. The ministry is understood to be preparing to send a fresh missive to the CBI giving its latest position on the recovery of documents, and corroborating them with the seizure memos of the agency.

One of the most important documents missing include minutes of the 26th Screening Committee meeting held on December 7, 2007, where crucial decision towards allocation of coal blocks were taken. Interestingly, the file pertaining to the recommendation letter by Congress MP, Vijay Darda for coal block allocation to AMR Iron and Steel still missing and has not been found even in the PMO.

Another file that is understood to be still missing is the Kamal Sponge Steel and Power’s feedback form, and also the presentation made by the firm before the 36th screening committee meeting held on December 7, 2008.

After failing to trace the file containing the report of Coal India’s experts on the financial strength of the applicant companies, the ministry officials recently interviewed the experts, and have compiled a four-page note based “on their recollection” of the assessment of the companies.

Traced or not, the deepening of the missing or not created files in the coal scam case has strengthened the belief of PMO’s hand in the whole matter. The coal ministry and the PMO seem to be working hand in hand over the matter impeding the CBI functioning.

The prime minister was beholder of the coal ministry during the allocation of coal blocks. His role in the scam is highly questioned. With the interference of Supreme Court, it was believed that the CBI will have an edge but it appears that the government has put a resolve to safeguard the PMO.

The PM was forced to answer the united opposition during the monsoon session of the parliament. Needless to say his statements were equally naive and lame as his government. The filing of new FIRs will hopefully change the discourse. He may well be called for an answer by the Supreme Court. Guess he should be prepared.

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