SC seeks to know legality of coal block allocation
CBI to file affidavit detailing the progress
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre under what legal provisions it made coal block allocations as all natural resources fell primarily under the states’ control.
Hearing a batch of PILs on coal block allocations, a bench of Justices R M Lodha and J Chelameswar also directed the CBI to file an affidavit detailing the progress of the investigations into the scam.
The probe agency, however, submitted that it would complete its investigation within four months in as many as 12 FIRs it had registered in the scam.
As the proceedings started in the matter, the bench asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati if it was not the admitted position of the Union Government that minerals and mining lease had to be awarded by the state governments.
Referring to the affidavit filed by the Coal Secretary, the court said it was clear that minerals and mining lease had to be executed by the state and not by the Centre.
The court asked Advocate General G E Vahanvati to tell under which provisions of law the Centre was empowered to make coal block allocations. “Allocation of coal block does not primarily seem to have been done through statute,” the court observed.
The court said the Centre can not undermine the law according to which it has no power to allocate coal blocks to companies.
“There is absolutely no power given to the Centre under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957. There is no provision overriding the Act. You require to give a lot of legal explanation,” the bench said.
“The question is does the Centre have power under the Act and does it have the power to undermine the entire statutory mechanism. Can you override the statutory provision of the Act? It is very doubtful, legally perhaps,” the court observed.
The court also noted that the bulk of coal block were allocated by the Ministry of Coal and some by screening committee. “Is it something extra-legal or does it get power from the government’s rule of business,” the bench asked.
The court said the Centre’s actions were like “putting cart before a horse” as state governments were left with no discretion.
As the AG sought time to answer the court’s queries, the bench posted the matter for March 12.
The bench was hearing a batch of PILs, including the ones filed by advocate M L Sharma and Common Cause, an NGO, members of civil society, former CEC N Gopalaswami, Navy ex-chief L Ramdas and former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, seeking an SIT probe into the coal block allocation scam.
During the hearing, Justice Lodha, who had last year passed a significant judgment in the Monnet Ispat energy case concerning grant of leases of iron ore mines in Jharkhand, told the AG that unlike in the Monnet case, the Centre had not acquired coal and hence states continued to remain the owners of the mines.