IN ITS first tacit admission of lapses in the allotment of coal blocks, the Central government told the Supreme Court Thursday that “something went wrong” with the process and that the allotment could have been done better.
Prompted by a bench led by Justice R M Lodha, Attorney General G E Vahanvati said that the decisions, which may have been taken in good faith in the past, may indeed look bad now and those decisions could have been taken in a “more refined” manner.
“Yes, I accept something has gone wrong with the process. Decisions were taken in good faith but somehow, somewhere, things went wrong. We admit decisions could have been done in a better manner,” Vahanvati told the bench, also comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.
“In hindsight, we can say something has gone wrong and some correction is required to be done,” the government’s top law officer added.
Vahanvati’s comments came in response to a query from the bench.
“Your intentions may be right but the exercise made and the manner in which it was done, shows something has gone wrong. The whole thing could have been done in a better manner but it is for the executive to do so. Don’t you think the entire exercise could have been done in a far better manner?” the bench had asked.
In response, Vahanvati pointed out that some of these contentious decisions were taken when the critical need of the country was to increase power generation.
“What we did was in national interest. Ideally we should have formed a national policy. Something better could have been evolved in the national interest.” he said.
Reconciling to the court’s views, the AG added: “We took decision in good faith but something turned out to be wrong with the development and regulation of coal blocks. Everything could have been done in a more refined and better manner. I accept my lordships view.”
Vahanvati also agreed with the court that the allotment of blocks required to be a more consultative exercise with states also having an adequate say. “A lot of decisions taken in the past, say 1991-92, with an intention to overcome power shortage in the country and increase power generation may not look good now but all this was done in good faith,” he reiterated.
The AG assured the court that the government will not grant any more mining leases on the basis of mere allotment letters.
On the issue of conveying the government’s readiness to cancel the allotment of coal blocks after 2005, Vahanvati sought time until next week to come back with requisite instructions.
The bench had Wednesday asked if the government was ready to cancel coal blocks allotted after 2005 and also consider calling off such allotments where either leases have not been executed or “milestones” had not been achieved by the beneficiary.
There are more than 100 blocks allotted after 2005 following meetings of the Screening Committee.
Vahanvati’s comments caused the BJP to attack Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and demand his resignation. “The attorney general has accepted that something major was wrong in the coal block allocations. He has confided in the Supreme Court that there were serious irregularities in the allotments. The onus is now on the prime minister as he held the coal portfolio from 2006 to 2009 when the allocations were made. We reiterate that he should own up his responsibility and resign,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.