SC questions coal ministry’s power to allocate coal blocks

CBI opposes probe by a special investigation team

By Soundaram Ramanathan
Published: Thursday 24 January 2013

The Supreme Court on Thursday issued notice to the Union Ministry of Coal, questioning the legality of coal block allocation to companies. Justice R M Lodha and Justice J Chelameswar issued the notice on the public interest petition, seeking probe by a special investigating team into alleged irregularities in coal block allocations.

The petition was filed last year by NGO Common Cause and other eminent citizens, including former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian, former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami and others.

The bench while issuing the notice said that the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act 1957 do not permit the ministry to allocate coal leases to companies. The bench ordered the ministry to reply whether it is empowered to allocate coal blocks in view of the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act of 1973.

When the case came up for hearing earlier on November 19, the court had issued notices to the Centre and CBI. In the earlier hearing, the apex court rapped the CBI counsel and additional solicitor general Haren Rawal after he expressed reservations over sharing the details of the ongoing coal block allocation probe by CBI. However, Rawal agreed to file a detailed affidavit on the status of the probe.

During the hearing on Thursday, CBI opposed a SIT probe and assured the court that probe into the scam would be completed within four months.

The allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive use started in 1993 when Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 was amended with the objective of attracting private investments in specified end-uses such as power, cement and steel because of the growing economy. The coal-gate scam was brought to light by a draft report of CAG in March 2012, ffter which CBI has been probing into the alleged irregularities in coal blocks allotment made since 1993.

In December last year, the Centre put out auction advertisements for 17 coal blocks with a total reserve of 8.5 billion tonnes to state-run firms.


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