New Delhi, Aug. 19: The CBI is in the process of wrapping up preliminary investigations into half a dozen companies, including a Calcutta-based steel-to-infrastructure conglomerate, that were given coal blocks in Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh between 2006 and 2009. A recent CAG report had also found anomaly in coal block allocations between May 2005 and July 2009.
The CBI believes the allocation process is reasonably transparent and followed a set of exact criteria. But, in some cases, the criteria were bent to give huge blocks to firms whose financial strength and potential to set up a viable project were “insignificant”, the investigations revealed.
“We are looking at a number of firms, including a Calcutta-based steel-to-power-to-infrastructure firm, whose coal allocation process does not seem to be above board,” said top officials.
The investigators have completed studying central as well as state government files.
Between 2006 and 2009, Jharkhand, which is the key state in the CBI’s focus, had three chief ministers. Madhu Koda, accused of having property disproportionate to his income, had been the chief minister for most of the period.
The CBI probe, which is being called a preliminary inquiry as no FIR has yet been filed, may be wrapped up as early as next month, officials said.
It was found that often firms with very low net worth would be allotted huge coal reserves, which were then used to either leverage bank loans, funding by investors or were in some cases simply transferred to a third party.
A favourite modus operandi of the state government and the screening committee was to give a block to a larger company, which easily cleared the norms set for getting a licence, and attach some smaller firms as co-allottees.
“We feel this was done so that the bigger players could not protest the process while rules were bent to help some firms who were otherwise ineligible,” officials said.
The screening was supposed to take into account mining knowledge, financial strength and the state of the steel or power project, which the mine was to feed.
“We do not feel the criteria set by the screening committee was unfair… in fact experts we have consulted have also opined the criteria was praiseworthy… it’s that in certain specific cases the criteria may have been violated which we are investigating,” officials said.
The CBI probe was launched after the case was referred to it by the Central Vigilance Commission. Several top officials of central ministries have been questioned on the manner in which the screening committee functioned.
Though more than 200 coal blocks were allocated during this period, the CBI looked into 64 allocations and have zeroed in on a few firms.