SC fumes over missing coal-block files

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) The Supreme Court Thursday fumed over the government's claim that a few files related to coal-block allocations from 1993-2009 were not "readily available" and asked if a police complaint had been filed.

"You are saying that files are not available, nor readily available, not traceable... have you filed the first information report, ultimately the truth has to come out," said the apex court bench of Justice R.M. Lodha, Justice Madan B. Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph.

"...Why is the case not registered (for missing files). Are they lost forever or... can be retrieved," asked the court.

The court gave two weeks' time to the government to give all files, documents and information sought by the CBI which is investigating allegations of lapses in the coal block allocations.

At the outset of the hearing, as Attorney General G.E. Vahanvati told the court that "there is some controversy regarding missing files", Justice Lodha mockingly said: "It is so mild a statement."

Vahanvati was once again on the receiving end when in response to a query by the court he said that certain files were not "readily available".

The court said the two-week period for giving the files to the probe agency will commence from the date it receives a "comprehensive and consolidated" list of the files, documents and information that are sought by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), besides what it already has.

The court gave the CBI five days to give the list to the government.

The court said that the week thereafter (after the two weeks' time to submit outstanding files, documents and information) the government will inform the CBI about the files, documents and the information that was not available or has gone missing and the probe agency will look into it.

Justice Lodha said: "The eligibility of the companies which had been allocated (coal blocks) is an issue and the criminality has to be investigated.

The court pointed to a letter of recommendation written by a ruling party parliamentarian to the prime minister's office which was forwarded to the coal ministry and is now suspected to be missing.

"A letter sent by the PMO to the ministry of coal is not traceable. How it is going to help the investigation. Because of such a support or lack of it the investigation can't go on," said Justice Lodha.

The court told the investigating agency to file its next status report by Oct 22.

The judges said that the CBI plea that in court monitored cases there was no requirement of the sanction of the government to investigate officers of the rank of joint secretary and above would be heard Sep 5.

Taking on "record and accepting" the statement by the three CBI officers, who are heading the investigating teams probing alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks, the court said if it found that there was "laxity and lethargy" in the conduct of the probe and still something was left then it would consider request of extension of time beyond Dec 13.

The court said this when senior counsel Amarendra Saran sought six months' time to complete the probe by the three teams. Saran appeared for the CBI.

Earlier perusing a status report, Justice Lodha said that of the 169 companies being investigated for the allocation of 85 coal blocks between 2006-09, the investigating agency had complete probe only in respect of 37.

Pointing out that 132 companies have not been touched at all, Justice Lodha said: "At this rate it will take time before you complete the investigation into entire 169 companies", adding "how you intend to conclude them... You are in first gear, pick up the speed."

As a CBI officer told that court that they were simultaneously investigating remaining 132 companies also, Justice Lodha said: "You have not said it anywhere."

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