Court directs CBI to further probe against ex-Coal Secy

Court directs CBI to further probe against ex-Coal Secy

The acts of former Coal Secretary H C Gupta and two other government officials overlooking the misrepresentation by Navbharat Power Pvt Ltd (NPPL) for getting coal block prima facie amounts to criminal misconduct, a special court today said directing the CBI to further investigate the case.

The court differed from the investigating officer's conclusion that no malafide intention was found on the part of government officials, saying it was prima facie clear that the decision of allocating coal block to NPPL was taken by the Ministry of Coal (MOC) officers and the Screening Committee without keeping public interest in mind.

"...I am of the considered opinion that the acts of MOC officers i.e. H C Gupta, Secretary MOC/Chairman, Screening Committee, K S Kropha, the then Joint Secretary, MOC/ Member Secretary, Screening Committee and K C Samaria, the then Director, MOC, prima facie falls within the four corners of the offence of criminal misconduct as defined in Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act," the judge said.

Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar, who kept pending final reports filed by the agency, ordered further probe in the case and directed it to file progress report on December 16.

This is the second time that the court has ordered further investigation in the case. Earlier, the court of Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate had refused to take cognizance of CBI's charge sheet against NPPL and its two officials and had directed the agency to further probe.

The court deferred the issue of cognizance against the private parties involved in the case till the report of further investigation is received.

"Thus in view of my aforesaid discussion it is clear that but for the acts of omission or commission committed by the officers of Ministry of Coal or that of Screening Committee, M/s NPPL would not have succeeded in getting allotment of the impugned coal block in their favour on the basis of the misrepresentation made by them initially in their application form and subsequently at the time of making presentation before the Screening Committee or in the feed back form filled by them," the judge said.

The acts of omission of the public servants involved does not appear to be "inadvertent", the court said.

CBI had filed a charge sheet against NPPL, its Managing Director and Vice-Chairman Harish Chandra Prasad and Chairman P Trivikrama Prasad and a supplementary final report in which it said that no offence was found to have been committed by the public servants.

The Supreme Court-appointed special public prosecutor R S Cheema, however, had differed with the CBI on giving clean chit to Gupta, Kropha and Samaria, saying they had "illegally allocated" the coal block to the firm.

The charge sheet was filed against NPPL and its officials for offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 420 (cheating) of IPC for allegedly misrepresenting facts, including inflated net worth, to acquire coal block in Rampia in Odisha.

While Gupta has retired, Kropha and Samaria are still in service and prior sanction is required to prosecute them.

The court asked the CBI to place before the sanctioning authority, the records of the case for considering the issue of according sanction to prosecute public servants involved for the offence under the PC Act.

"In these circumstances I accordingly deem it appropriate that before taking cognizance of any offence even against the private parties it will be appropriate to refer the present matter for further investigation to the CBI," the judge said.

The court, in its 34-page order, said, "it was prima facie clear that the decision was taken by the MOC officers and the Screening Committee without keeping public interest in mind with unreasonable and manifest disregard to the consequences that such an act would be severely undermining the public interest, and that such decision on their part would result in unduly obtaining pecuniary advantage by the private parties involved."

"Thus in these circumstances, the decision makers who were having dominion over the nationalized natural resources of the country i.e. coal blocks have to take the responsibility of the consequences," it said.

The court also said prima facie it was clear that the officers of MOC or the Screening Committee acted in a manner which was detrimental to public interest and thereby in the process allowed NPPL and its two directors to misappropriate the country's natural resource.

"Thus if the acts of public servants in the present case are seen and analysed, the same speak volumes about the active collusion between the public servants involved in the process and the private parties in whose favour the coal block stood allotted," it said.

The court said from the CBI report it transpired that after the coal block was allocated to NPPL, the firm sold its shares to the promoters of Essar Power Ltd for a windfall gain of more than Rs 200 crores.

"In the revised supplementary report, it has been mentioned that the shares of NPPL could be sold at such a high value only on account of the fact that a coal block stood allotted to the company," it noted.

The court said the "glaring and apparent" misrepresentation of facts regarding the firm's net worth in its application form was conveniently overlooked by MOC officers and Screening Committee for the reasons best known to them.

CBI had earlier alleged that the net worth of the firm applying for coal blocks was an important factor to determine its financial strength and NPPL had fraudulently claimed in its application that it was supported by Globeleq Singapore Pvt Ltd, Navbharat Ventures Ltd and Mahalaxmi Group Ltd.

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