New Delhi, March 12: The Supreme Court today sought the CBI’s word that it was not sharing with its political masters the details of its probe into coal-block allocations by the Centre, and indicated it might quash the entire allocation if it found any illegalities.
The court asked the CBI director to give an assurance within a week that the “probe details are being vetted by him personally” and that the report “is not being shared with the political executive”.
“The question is, whether the powers (to allocate coal blocks) are traceable to any statute. Assuming it (the government) has the competence, was there any system? Prima facie, it seems arbitrary, irrational,” the three-judge bench told attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati.
“If we broadly find (that) no procedure is followed, the entire allocation goes,” it added, noting that the CBI status report “seems to suggest there is no uniform pattern/policy”.
The court asked the Centre to explain its stand in three weeks when the CBI files its next status report on the investigations, and posted the next hearing for April 30.
In February last year, the court had cancelled 122 2G licences allotted by the Centre following charges of irregularities.
A public interest litigation has questioned mainly the coal allocations between 2004 and 2010 but the CBI is probing all allocations since 1993.
The bench of Justices R.M. Lodha, J. Chelameshwar and Madan B. Lokur brushed aside Vahanvati’s argument that entertaining the petition would not be proper.
“We can’t go back to the Stone Age — every policy of the government is being challenged in court these days,” Vahanvati had said.
But Justice Lodha, who heads the bench, retorted: “In a democracy, such things happen. Your policy must be strong like a rock. Therefore, don’t crib.”
The petitioners — lawyer M.L. Sharma and the NGO Common Cause — have sought a quashing of the allocations and punishment for those involved in the alleged irregularities. They have prayed for a court-monitored probe.
The bench today said that since the CBI was probing the criminality angle, the court would concern itself primarily with the legality and validity of the allocations even if they were made under statutory powers.
“Even if we assume the Centre is competent to allocate, the (CBI) report... seems to suggest there is no uniform pattern/policy,” it said.
The bench added that the coal ministry seemed to have forwarded the companies’ applications without scrutiny. “There is no system in place to verify facts claimed by companies about their background, financial status. It appears some companies got allocations (through) misrepresentation. The criminality of these things would have to be examined.”
Vahanvati said every allocation was made after a proper scrutiny but the court said: “Assuming you acted as per law, its implementation is flawed if one goes by the CBI report.”
Petitioner Sharma and fellow lawyer Prashant Bhushan said the CBI was not trying to go to the root of the conspiracy as influential people and major companies were involved.