SC issues notice to centre on coal blocks

Last Updated: Mon, Nov 19, 2012 16:38 hrs

New Delhi: The Supreme Court Monday issued notice to the central government and the CBI on a petition seeking the cancellation of all captive coal blocks allocated to private companies and a SIT probe into the alleged scam.

The public interest litigation (PIL) demanded the cancellation of all coal blocks and a probe by a special investigation team (SIT) into the allegedly arbitrary and non−transparent manner in which the blocks were allocated, purportedly causing huge loss to the public exchequer.

The apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha and Justice Anil R. Dave issued the notice on a joint PIL by NGO Common Cause and other eminent people, including former cabinet secretary T.S.R. Subramanian, former chief election commissioner N. Gopalaswami and others.

The petition sought the cancellation of all the coal blocks allocated to private companies from 1993 to 2012 for captive mining coupled with court−monitored investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation or the SIT into the allocation of coal blocks.

The PIL contended that coal blocks were allocated in a "completely arbitrary and non−transparent manner, causing a huge loss to the public exchequer running into tens of lakhs of crores of rupees."

The "whole process of allocation of coal blocks is tainted by bribery and corruption and made in flagrant violation of the established norms and procedures that renders it illegal", the PIL contended.

Seeking an SIT probe, counsel Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the Common Cause and other petitioners, contended that the CBI was unsuited to undertake the probe as people involved in the coal scam were either ministers or their kith and kin and influential people.

He said the CBI was focusing on the misrepresentation by a few companies which were not eligible for allocation of coal blocks, and they were not concentrating on irregularities committed in the allocation process itself.

"This issue is open and much will depend on the response" by the government and investigating agency, Justice Lodha said in response to Bhushan's contention.

The petition targeted the prime Minister for the allegedly flawed investigation being carried out by the CBI, and said: "This is not surprising since the CBI works as a department of the central government, and here the prime minister was directly in charge of the ministry of coal for most of the time."

Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the court that the central government will file two separate replies − one dealing with an earlier petition by advocate petitioner M.L. Sharma and the other by the Common Cause.

The court said: "What is important is not the form but the substance (of government reply)".

The judges said this noting that the certain issues in both the petitions were overlapping.

The court tagged the Common Cause petition with the one filed by Sharma and fixed the next hearing for Jan 24, 2013.

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