On February 13, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Director Ranjit Sinha told Parliament's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) for the first time that the investigation into the Rs 1.86-lakh-crore coal block allocation scam was being hampered because the coal ministry was not making crucial files available to the agency. Questioned about the tardy progress of its investigation, Sinha told PAC that CBI had not got files related to the allocation of 40 coal blocks and meetings of the screening committee despite repeated reminders to the ministry.
Six months later, after a grudging admission about the missing files from Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal in Parliament on August 17, the CBI chief now says that investigations into the Coalgate scam have hit a roadblock, and that the case will suffer a huge setback if the files are not found. "I cannot say yet if the case is as good as over but it has definitely been diluted. The files are crucial to establish irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks," Sinha told India Today.
The implication is clear-powerful coal block allottees linked to the Congress will be let off the hook. These include Congress MPs Vijay Darda and Naveen Jindal as the files pertaining to coal block allocations to their companies are among the 257 missing ones. The missing files cover the period of coal block allocation between 1993 and 2009 but most of the 13 FIRs and three preliminary enquiries by CBI investigators pertain to allocations between 2006 and 2009 when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was handling the coal portfolio.
Sources in the Government claim that the "missing files" represent not only an attempt to help Congress politicians, but also to save Manmohan Singh the embarrassment. "The attempts are crude and blatant. First, the then law minister Ashwani Kumar tried to pressurise CBI by vetting the probe report to be submitted to the Supreme Court in March. And, now, this absurdity of important files having gone missing," says a CBI official involved in the investigation of the case.
The missing files, among others, pertain to coal block allocations to AMR Iron and Steel Private limited, JLD Yavatmal Energy Limited, JAS Infrastructure Capital Private Limited and Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL). The Nagpur-based companies, AMR and JLD Yavatmal Energy, have close ties to Vijay Darda. The FIR against AMR names its Directors Arvind Kumar Jayaswal, Manoj Jayaswal, Ramesh Jayaswal and Devendra Darda. The one against JLD names Vijay Darda, Rajendra Darda, Devendra Darda and Manoj Jayaswal. The accused in the case against JAS Infrastructure are Manoj Jayaswal and Abhishek Jayaswal. Jindal was named in the 12th FIR along with another Congressman, former minister of state for coal Dasari Narayan Rao, by CBI. amr Director Arvind Jayaswal was earlier questioned by CBI sleuths in January about his alleged links with Coal Minister Jaiswal and also former coal minister Santosh Bagrodia.
The CBI director says that he kept raising the issue of the missing files and information not being shared by the coal ministry time and again. The Supreme Court, on August 6, ordered the Government to cooperate with the cbi probe and urgently share the documents requested by the investigating agency. "It all appears to be part of a concerted effort to dilute the case," complains a CBI official.
However, the CBI director thinks the case can be salvaged. "The Government has not told us officially about the missing files. We will wait till it tells us or somehow gives us the files. In the meantime, we will inform the Supreme Court about the status of the case on August 29 and wait for further directions," says Sinha.
In the scenario of CBI not getting the files, the director says that it will try to reconstruct them by tracing their movement record and from other records. cbi sources claim that even if they do manage to reconstruct the main components of the files-a long and painstaking procedure-they will never get the notings that may have been put on the files to favour a particular person or company.
Of the total missing files, nearly 150 pertain to the 1993-2004 period in which 45 coal blocks were allocated. Other files relate to allocations between 2006 and 2009, and with communication among various ministries and states. CBI sources claim that it would be virtually impossible to substantiate allegations of misrepresentation of facts by the beneficiaries and the favours given by the Government. The files contain documents like application forms, supporting documents, minutes of screening committee meetings, objections raised by officials and other records.
CBI says it is ready to investigate whether the evidence has been wilfully destroyed but for that the ministry has to register an FIR. Jaiswal refused to comment when contacted by India Today, saying that he would make a statement in Parliament on August 22. In an earlier statement in Rajya Sabha on August 20, Jaiswal had said that he had constituted an inter-ministerial committee to look into the case of the missing files. His explanation to a news channel that files could not be located since they were stacked vertically, one on top of the other, is laughable. Coal ministry officials were reportedly in the process of placing them horizontally to see what they were all about. "Next we will have to check the air quality in the coal ministry's storage room. The minister will say that it is too thin and makes files disappear," quips a senior leader of the Opposition BJP.
The Coalgate case, for one, is definitely under threat of disappearing into thin air.
Reproduced From India Today. © 2013. LMIL. All rights reserved.