Three years after filing of the charge sheet by the Central Bureau of Investigation in the coal block allotment case, a special CBI court on Wednesday convicted former Jharkhand chief minister Madhu Koda and former coal secretary HC Gupta for corruption and criminal conspiracy. The court held Koda, Gupta and other accused persons, including ex-Jharkhand chief secretary AK Basu and the Kolkata-based private company Vini Iron and Steel Udyog (VISUL), guilty of criminal conspiracy in allocating the Rajhara North coal block in Jharkhand to the firm. The court will hear arguments on the quantum of punishment on Thursday. With this verdict, four of the 30 cases arising out of the coal block allocation scam unearthed during the previous UPA regime have been decided. Gupta, along with other serving bureaucrats, had been convicted by the special court in another case related to coal block allocation in May this year. The case related to alleged irregularities in the allocation of a coal block in Madhya Pradesh to Kamal Sponge Steel & Power. After the order, associations of IAS officers had voiced their support for the retired IAS officials. The association had asked for changes in Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988, to ensure honest mistakes without mala fide intentions not to be seen as criminal offence.
In the present case, the CBI had argued in the court that the coal block was allotted to the private firm (VISUL) despite not being recommended for it by either the steel ministry or the Jharkhand government. The decision to allot the mine was taken by the 36th screening committee headed by then coal secretary Gupta.
The CBI said that Gupta had allegedly concealed facts like that the state government had not recommended that the company be allotted the block from the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who at that point of time was also in charge of the coal ministry. Since 1992, coal mines were allocated by a screening committee comprising officials from relevant ministries as well as state government. The committee allotted mines on a first come, first served basis while also considering recommendations received from nodal ministries and state governments. This was changed by an ordinance brought in 2014 that mandated allocation of coal mines to the highest bidder in an auction.
Speaking to FE on Wednesday, former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian said that while he sympathised with Gupta and personally thought he was an honourable man, he disagreed with the demands for amending the Prevention of Corruption Act. “If anything, the Act should be enforced even more rigorously as corruption is rampant in government departments,” he said.
In 2012, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) ordered a CBI probe into the allotment of coal mines. Later that year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) submitted a report in Parliament that pegged the loss to the exchequer at Rs 1.86 lakh crore due to irregularity in the allocation process. Two years later, the apex court quashed the allotment of 194 mines — made between 1992 and 2010 — terming it illegal.
In another high-profile case, the CBI had charge-sheeted Kumar Mangalam Birla and another former coal secretary PC Parakh. The case was, however closed later by the CBI citing lack of evidence. A case involving industrialist Naveen Jindal and former minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao is currently being heard by the special court. Koda and Gupta are also accused in this case.