Apex court hauls Centre over the coals

SC asks govt to explain why only 151 out of 2001 companies were given blocks
Last Updated 12 March 2013, 21:14 IST

The Supreme Court on Tuesday put the Centre in the dock over coal block allocation by observing that it prima facie seemed to be ''arbitrary and irrational.''

A three-judge bench presided over by Justice R M Lodha said the procedure adopted by the government did not appear to be “proper and legal.”

The court asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to explain how out of 2001 applications, only 151 companies were allocated 68 coal blocks and the basis for rejection of 1951 applications between 2006 and 2009. “Under what circumstances and for what reasons these 1950 applications were found ineligible is anybody's guess. You will have to tell us whether even among the applicants, the consideration was objective and rational or was it simply pick and choose,” the court told Vahanvati.

During the hearing, the court said it would not go into individual cases but would certainly want to know whether there was a well-defined and structured policy for deciding the successful allottees.

However, the bench, also comprising Justices J Chelameswar and Madan B Lokur, asked the AG to explain as to how and why the policy of competitive bidding, contemplated upon in 2004, was not implemented till 2012.

At the outset, the bench, while reading the CBI’s inquiry report, noted that several companies got the allocations on misrepresentation and that records pertaining to allocation of 53 coal blocks did not reveal the rationale behind recommending or not recommending a particular entity.

“The CBI report discloses there was absolutely no uniform policy or pattern followed. You could have acted in accordance with the law and a policy but its implementation has been found to be prima facie flawed by the CBI,” the court said.

On this, Vahanvati said the CBI could not be the “final word” on it and that he would file an additional affidavit, explaining rationale of every decision taken by the government since 1973. The bench then said the government should not make a statement which might prejudice the ongoing CBI probe in the case.

“Any of your comments must not prejudice CBI inquiry in the case. If you are challenging the very conspiracy angle of the controversy, then it would affect the probe,” the bench said.Vahanvati, however, clarified that the government had no problem with the CBI probe and pleaded the court to supply him with some part of the probe report on which he would respond.

“I am not trying to pre-empt the inquiry. I have no problem with it. Let the CBI probe the allocation,” he said. The court also asked the CBI director to file an affidavit that the status report submitted by the agency on March 8 was vetted by him only and not shared with any political executive.

(Published 12 March 2013, 08:20 IST)

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