The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was supposed to finish its probe into the multi crore coal scam, also known as “Coalgate”, by the end of 2014, is getting nowhere with its investigation. The agency is probing the allocation of coal mines in the period of 1993 to 2009. However, it is yet to question one of the main protagonists of the case, former Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal of the Congress. Jaiswal’s name came under the scanner in 2012 and 2013 over his alleged links with the Nagpur based Abhijeet Group, which was allocated five coal mines by the UPA government’s Ministry of Coal between 2005 and 2009 in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra by not floating tenders, among other things. The CBI registered an FIR against the Group in 2012.
The link between Jaiswal and Abhijeet Group was first revealed by this newspaper in September 2012. Jaiswal was named by the company as the arbitrator to decide the internal operations of the Jayaswal family, one of whom, Manoj Jayaswal, owns the Abhijeet Group, the parent company of JAS infrastructure and JLD Yavatmal, which was allotted the coal mines.
Beyond questioning Congress leader Naveen Jindal in 2013 on his company being allocated some coal blocks, the CBI has not shown any progress in the case.
A former CBI official who was a part of the initial “Coalgate” investigation and is now working with another Central agency, said that the agency should have questioned the links between the bureaucrats and the Coal Ministers in the period of the allocation to establish the flouting of rules that was done to favour the private entities that got the coal blocks.
“We had prepared a list of officials from the Ministry of Coal who were a part of the allotment process. Many of these bureaucrats were working with coal PSUs and helped certain business houses in getting these coal mines. The questioning of these officials was essential to get to these industrialists and the ministers, but after questioning some of these officials, the probe went silent. As far as I know, many of the officials, who were on that list, were never summoned for questioning”, the former CBI official recalled.
Last week, even the Supreme Court came down heavily on the agency for the delay, when the CBI sought more time to complete the probe. “We make clear our unhappiness at the investigation getting prolonged and we expect the CBI to conclude the investigation at the earliest, without seeking a further extension of time,” a three-judge bench headed by Justice Madan B. Lokur said. The court was critical of the CBI at the very outset when the agency sought permission for an administrative change allowing an officer to leave the team probing coal scam cases following which the court said, “Something has to be done. It cannot go on like this.” The bench, also comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and A.K. Sikri, pointed out that the CBI was asked to conclude the investigation by 31 December 2014.
The CBI took up the investigation in the case in mid 2012 after a Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) audit revealed that the national exchequer had suffered a loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore due to the faulty methods used by ministers and bureaucrats to allocate coal mines in order to favour certain industrialists. However, after showing some initial enthusiasm by questioning a few key bureaucrats and UPA leaders, including Union ministers, the investigation has lost steam.
CBI sources said that the agency had other important tasks at hand, which required urgent attention and the coal scam was no longer a priority for them. “The agency has filed close to 30 plus charge-sheets in the case and at least 10 more will be filed soon. There are other cases which are top priority and is taking up the agency’s resources,” said a senior agency officer not authorised to speak to the media. According to him, many of the crucial files that could have helped establish criminality against industrialists, bureaucrats and ministers have gone missing, as a result of which the agency’s hands were tied in many cases.
Emails sent to the CBI spokesperson seeking the agency’s response on queries related to the undue delay in the probe went unanswered till the time the report went to press.