13 crucial files on coal block allocations missing, search on

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SummaryCoal ministry appeals to steel, power ministries for help in retrieving them.

Amid mounting pressure from the CBI, the coal ministry has intensified its hunt for key documents for the ongoing inquiry into the allocation process of coal blocks, only to discover that around 13 crucial files are missing from its domain.

A highly placed source in the government told The Indian Express that the coal ministry has recently discovered that two key files of 1990 and 1993 related to the Screening Committee meetings are yet to be traced — the files that the CBI is pursuing with the ministry.

On Saturday, coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal conceded for the first time that some crucial files pertaining to the alleged irregularities in allocation of captive coal blocks between1993-2004 have gone missing from the records.

Jaiswal’s admission on the missing files is bound to lend further credence to the CBI’s contention that it has not been getting the needed cooperation from the coal ministry.

Ashwani Kumar, who held the law portfolio, had to resign in the wake of revelations that he had vetted the draft probe report of the CBI regarding the coal block allocations.

Coal ministry officials have widened their search for these documents in Shastri Bhawan — that houses the ministry — and Delhi-based offices of Coal India (CIL) and Ranchi-based Central Mine Planning and Design Institute (CMPDI).

One such key file pertaining to the recommendation made by Congress MP Vijay Darda for the Bander coal block in Maharashtra, allocated to AMR Iron and Steel and referred by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), is non-traceable.

After an intensive search, the ministry is now planning to ask the PMO to help by providing a copy of its reference to the block, the source said. With the ongoing search gathering a fresh momentum, some more documents are likely to be handed over to the CBI soon, the source added.

So wary is the coal ministry on the missing files that an inter-ministerial search committee set up by it had met recently chaired by additional secretary AK Dubey to discuss ways to resort to a targeted hunt for documents requisitioned by the CBI.

The committee has appealed to concerned ministries like steel and power and companies like Coal India to help in retrieving the missing documents. The source said that the CBI had early this month asked the coal ministry to expressly furnish the copies of all applications received for 45 blocks allocated between 1993-2005 and application copies of 157 private companies who applied for the blocks but were not allocated any block.

This is bound to compound problems for the ministry as applications for 45 blocks pertain to the era before advertisements were put out inviting applications for blocks and there were not cut off dates for the same.

Further, for the 157 applications, the ministry has asked Coal India and CMPDI to trace these applications on a war footing, the source said.

The ministry is learnt to be scrambling to provide the minutes of the meetings of an inter-ministerial group (IMG) pertaining to allocation of blocks for the coal-to-liquid programme to CBI. Unable to trace the documents, it has written to the Planning Commission and the ministries, who were members of the IMG to forward copies of the minutes.

The ministry, however, has shot down a suggestion to obtain the records from the applicants themselves saying it would not be proper to do so.

Sequence of events

August 17 2012: CAG report on coal blocks is tabled in the Parliament which said private firms got 105 blocks between 1993 and 2009 and are likely to gain Rs 1.86 lakh crore from coal blocks allocated nomination basis instead of competitive bidding.The report triggered a political furore.

June 2012: The Central Vigilance Commission asks CBI to inquire into the coal block allocation process between 2006-09. CBI files Preliminary Enquiry .

September 2012: Expanding the scope of the investigation, the CBI widens probe into alleged irregularities in allocation of coal blocks between 1993 and 2004. The agency has filed 13 FIRs so far including against a former minister of state for coal.

May 8, 2013: The Supreme Court raps the government for vetting the draft reports and asks for measures to insulate the CBI from “external influence and intrusion”.

May 10, 2013: Ashwani Kumar resigns as law minister amid allegation that his ministry had vetted a draft status report of the CBI on the ongoing inquiry.

July 11, 2013: Supreme Court asks the Union government to produce all the records pertaining to allotment of 178 blocks.

mid-July: The coal ministry writes to the CBI saying it has shared over 762 files as needed by it and would continue to share more as and when required.

August 17: Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal concedes that some files are indeed missing from his ministry’s domain and other ministries like steel and power have been asked to help.

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