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In its judgment sentencing former coal secretary H C Gupta and serving IAS officers K S Kropha and K C Samria to two years in the coal blocks allocation case, the special court held that the convicted officials “withheld” “aspects of non-compliance” from then prime minister Manmohan Singh. “Dishonest misrepresentation” was made by the convicted persons before the screening committee “even before” Singh approved these recommendations, the court observed.
“… While sending the file containing recommendations of Screening Committee to Prime Minister as Minister of Coal for approval, nothing was mentioned that the guidelines issued by MoC governing allocation of coal blocks have not been followed,” special judge Bharat Parashar said in his detailed judgment.
Parashar noted that Singh was to act upon the the recommendation of only the screening committee, and ruled that the convicted officials “were acting in cahoots” with Kamal Sponge Steel & Power Ltd and its managing director Pawan Kumar Ahluwalia to procure allocation of the Thesgora-B/Rudrapuri coal block in MP. Ahluwalia was convicted of criminal conspiracy and handed a three-year sentence, then granted bail for two months.
“… It becomes important to note that in the guidelines itself it was stated that after the Screening Committee would make its recommendation then on the basis of recommendation of the Screening Committee, Ministry of Coal will determine the allotment. However while forwarding the file to Prime Minister as Minister of Coal for approval of the recommendation of the Screening Committee, it was nowhere mentioned by any of the MoC officers, [far] less by Gupta, that the applications have not been checked for their eligibility and completeness,” the court said.
“… There was thus no reason in the facts and circumstances of the case for the Prime Minister as Minister of Coal to presume that the guidelines issued have not been complied with. It is not only apparent from the record but it is certainly permissible to draw a presumption in the overall facts and circumstances of the case that Prime Minister as Minister of Coal proceeded to consider the recommendation of the Screening Committee on the assumption that the applications must have been checked in MoC for their eligibility and completeness or that the guidelines must have been duly followed even by the Screening Committee,” it added.
“… It is clear that the dishonest misrepresentation as were made by the accused persons before the Screening Committee continued even before Prime Minister as Minister of Coal… approved the recommendation of Screening Committee. The Screening Committee was admittedly constituted to deal with all applications received for allotment of various coal blocks and to make its recommendation thereafter. The Prime Minister as Minister of Coal was thus to act upon the said recommendation only,” it said.
The court has added, however, that in its “considered opinion” the checking of applications “even at the stage of post-approval of recommendation of Screening Committee by Prime Minister as Minister of Coal for their eligibility and completeness would have not only ensured a greater degree of objectivity and transparency in the entire coal block allocation process but it would have also ensured that the important nationalised natural resources of the country”.
“… In the overall facts and circumstances of the case as discussed above coupled with the vast experience which the three accused MoC officers were having at their command, it cannot be stated by any stretch of imagination that the aforesaid casual and ad hoc nature of arrangement put in place in MoC to deal with coal block allocation matters was on account of inefficiency or incapability of the senior officers of MoC. However, it will not be wrong to say if the attitude of senior MOC officers in dealing with the coal block allocation matters is termed as that of ‘WHO CARES’,” the court concluded.