The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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SC cancellation call in pump scam

New Delhi, Oct. 11: The Supreme Court today 'suggested' cancelling 297 discretionary allotments of petrol pumps during the previous BJP-led regime after an expert committee said in its report that about 73 per cent of the distributions were irregular.

A division bench of Justices Y.K. Sabharwal and D.M. Dharmadhikari, before which the 21-volume report was placed, said the panel had found irregularities in the allotment of 297 pumps out of the 409 'referred for scrutiny'.

The court's observation has come just before Wednesday's elections in Maharashtra where the BJP's Ram Naik, who was petroleum minister when the allotments were made, is a key player.

The expert panel's report was submitted in sealed covers and no details such as names and even places of allotments were available. The report is out of reach for the public.

The petrol pump scandal broke in 2002 when media reports suggested irregularities in the sanction of discretionary allotments. The then Atal Bihari Vajpayee government immediately cancelled all 3,158 allotments made between 2000 and 2002.

But the apex court on December 20, 2002 set aside the government order and handed over scrutiny of the allotments to a committee comprising retired Supreme Court judge S.C. Agrawal and a retired high court judge, P.K. Bahri. The committee submitted its report last week.

'Almost 73 per cent of the allotments were found to be improperly made,' the bench said today. It allowed inspection of the report by the counsel of those whose names figure on the list of 'cancellation recommended'.

The court also made it clear it would not entertain any argument from the counsel of the affected parties on questions related to facts as the two-judge panel had 'thoroughly' examined the cases.

The bench said 'as far as the factual aspect of the matter is concerned, it stands closed. If we have to go into the factual aspect of the matter again, then there was no need for us to refer the matter to a high-level committee'.

The judges said the counsel for the affected parties could raise objections with regard to irregularities found by the committee based on the guidelines pertaining to allotments of pumps. The court adjourned hearings for eight weeks to give time to the counsel to inspect and take copies of necessary portions of the report required to prepare their defence.

The committee went through the process adopted by dealer selection boards in allotting the pumps. In its report, the panel recommended cancellation of a majority of the allotments as they were influenced by political considerations with the selection boards not following the rules laid down.

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