The Centre today faced ire of the Supreme Court on missing files on Coalgate and for not sharing information with CBI and was directed to hand over relevant documents within two weeks to the agency which would also probe disappearance of certain vital papers.
Holding that the missing documents are "vital" for the probe in the scam, the apex court directed the Coal Ministry to lodge complaint with the CBI if it fails to trace any documents, sought by the agency.
"You (Centre) cannot do like this. Your explanation that files are being searched is not reasonable. This will not help," a three-judge bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said.
The bench slammed the government for not lodging FIRs on missing files and raised a question as to whether "it is an attempt to destroy the records in the case."
"Four months have passed. Have you filed an FIR for missing files. Is it an attempt to destroy the records. Truth must come out," the bench, also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said while noting that missing documents pertain to financial aspects of the allocations.
"This cannot be left as it is. Why a case has not been registered so far? Proper report has to be lodged to find out whether it has been stolen or destroyed. This cannot be allowed. Some investigation has to be done on the issue," the bench said.
"For any reason if files are not available or lost or stolen or destroyed, tell us when will you lodge a complaint with CBI," the bench asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati, who, appearing for the Coal Ministry, assured that the Ministry would do the needful if documents are not traced.
The bench then asked the CBI to give a list of documents, files, information, sought by it, within five days to the Coal Ministry which, in turn, would furnish them within two weeks thereafter.
If any documents remain untraceable, then FIRs have to be lodged by the Coal Ministry with the CBI within a week thereafter, it said.
The apex court also directed CBI to conclude the probe against all companies, which were allocated coal blocks, by December this year and ordered it to file the status report by October 22.
"You (CBI) have to pick up some speed. The pace of inquiry is not good. You are still driving in the first gear. Yours is a huge task and all these need to reach the logical conclusion," a bench headed by Justice R M Lodha said.
It questioned CBI on the way the probe is conducted in the case as the status report did not show inquiry against all companies.
The Centre had earlier admitted before the apex court that 189 out of 236 documents sought by CBI, which is probing coal block allocations scam, were "not-available".
Giving details of missing documents, the Coal Ministry had said 7 files, 173 applications of coal block allotees/ applicants and nine other documents were being searched by it.
In a hearing that spanned over two hours, the bench said there cannot be any "justification for the missing files" and that CBI probe be done despite an inter-ministerial committee formed by the Centre to look into the issue.
The bench also referred to the disappearance of a PMO's reference letter to the Coal Ministry relating to Congress MP Vijay Darda's alleged recommendations for coal block allocations to some firms.
"It is an external committee. We are not concerned about it. Before the CBI probe into the case, we grant time to the Centre to find out files. If files are not available, then you lodge a complaint with CBI," the bench said.
The bench then took the government to task for "sitting over" the documents sought by CBI in the case.
"You cannot sit over the documents. All documents which are necessary have to be made available. Many documents, minutes of the meeting, draft minutes of meetings of the screening committee are yet to be provided to CBI. We are making it very clear that it cannot go on like this," the bench said.
Referring to certain portions of the status report, "the crucial reports of financial experts of Coal India Ltd (CIL) on financial positions of applicant companies are missing from Ministry of Coal."
The AG then replied that the government would cooperate with the agency, drawing sharp reaction from the bench which said "who stopped you from doing so for the last four months"?
"Documents might be voluminous but it is not that it would take so long to respond to CBI's query. Record of government office should not go anywhere. One original file is a guard file which does not go anywhere. One has to work overtime but it must be done," it said.
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