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CBI inquiry into coal allocations

CBI inquiry into coal allocations

New Delhi: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Friday initiated an investigation into the alleged irregularities in allocation to and utilization of coal mines by private companies in 2006-2009.

The investigation is based on the advice of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), the apex anti-corruption watchdog.

The CBI action is politically a setback for the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance as the allegations relate to the period when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held additional charge of the coal ministry.

“We have registered a preliminary enquiry against unknown people. And it is likely to be completed within 12 weeks," said a high-ranking official who did not want to be named. “We will be looking for criminal misconduct, if any, by companies allocated coal blocks and also any wrongdoings in the allocation process."

To be sure, the preliminary investigation by CBI does not indicate any culpability and marks the first stage of any inquiry.

CVC had received the complaint of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders Prakash Javadekar and Hansraj Ahir on 10 March. It alleged wrongdoing in the allocation and utilization of coal by private firms. The BJP leaders alleged that the government had adopted a first-come-first-served policy to benefit some private companies.

In 2004-2009, the coal ministry allocated 155 coal blocks on a nomination basis to various firms for captive use. The allegations are that these blocks were allocated at undervalued rates.

The matter was raised after The Times of India newspaper reported a draft report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) on the allocation of coal blocks. According to the report, the draft finding said the national exchequer suffered a notional loss of 10.6 trillion, out of which the notional loss due to allocation to private companies was pegged at 1.8 trillion. However, CAG issued a press statement and disowned the media report, saying the report was yet to be finalized.

“We are happy that CVC has taken cognizance of our complaint. CVC has written to us saying your complaints have been duly examined in the commission, having regard to the issues raised therein and the same has been forwarded to CBI for a preliminary inquiry," Javadekar, who was accompanied by Ahir, told reporters.

BJP spokeswoman Nirmala Sitharaman said, “We have raised it in Parliament and there are enough indications that something is going on in coal allocation. Hansraj Ahir has been independently collecting a lot of evidence on the coal allocation and approached CVC, who has seen merit in the case and asked CBI to investigate. Now, during the period of irregularity, the minister holding the charge for coal was Prime Minister and hence we said there is a need for a special investigation team and we stick to our demand."

Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal denied there was any scam, in comments made to reporters in Bhubaneswar. There is no CAG report with me... There is no scam in allocation of coal blocks," he said, adding that blocks were allocated (to the companies both in the public and private sector) to provide subsidized power to consumers over the last 15 years.

Jaiswal also denied there was any windfall gain for the firms that got the mines, as mentioned in the draft CAG report.

The alleged findings of the CAG report were used by anti-corruption activist Anna Hazare and his team to level allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Singh.

“CBI is under the government. Here the Prime Minister is accused. How will CBI investigate the Prime Minister? It is laughable; it is a pretence. We know the outcome of this probe. It will say that the Prime Minister has not done anything wrong. It will give clean chit to Singh," Hazare’s colleague Arvind Kejriwal told reporters in Ghaziabad. He said a panel of three retired judges should investigate the matter.

The PMO could not be reached immediately for comment.

sahil.m@livemint.com

Aman Malik, Appu Esthose Suresh and Elizabeth Roche contributed to this story.

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