The Supreme Court today refused to entertain a government's plea not not to hear a PIL on alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks and sought an explanation whether guidelines were flouted in allotments.
The apex court, which turned down the Centre's contention that the petition based on the CAG report which is under the scrutiny of Parliament's PAC cannot be considered, said "the petitioner has sought to point out illegality and there is nothing wrong in it."
"This is not distribution of state properties in a small way. It is mines of largesse, not even tonnes of largesse. By the way, is it a mere coincidence that so many politicians, their relatives or supporters were benefited in the 194 coal block allotments," a bench of Justices R M Lodha and A R Dave asked solicitor general R F Nariman.
The other questions posed by the SC to the government included the following and the coal secretary has been asked to file a response in eight weeks as to:
- Why competitive bidding process was not followed for allocation of coal blocks?
- What were the guidelines for allocation of coal blocks and whether there was any deviation during actual allocation?
- Why so many politicians and their relatives figure among the alleged irregular allottees?
- Whether the guidelines for allocation overlooked the safety mechanism to render the allotments as largesse in favour of private parties?
- Whether government's objective in coal block allocation has been achieved through the present mode of allocation, which was faulted by the CAG?
The bench said the prayer seeking a direction for alleged "unconstitutional" and "arbitrary" allocation of coal blocks "requires explanation from you (centre) because it is not the distribution of state's property in small scale but it talks about tons of largesse."
Further, the bench questioned as why the names of politicians and their relatives have cropped up among the alleged illegal
allottees of coal blocks in which the policy of "competitive bidding" formulated by the government in 2004 was not followed.
The bench rejected Solicitor General Rohinton Nariman's contention that the petition based on the CAG report was "premature" as the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was slated to examine it from September 20 about the correctness of allocation.
"Nevertheless, keeping in view the CAG is a constitutional functionary and whether its report is final or not, it has a value. And here the petitioner has sought to bring point to show illegality and there is nothing wrong.
"Least are we concerned with the correctness of report which will be examined by the PAC or Parliament. But we can rely on it
(CAG report)," the bench said adding that "these are different exercises (before the court and PAC)."
"There is a difference in the exercise done by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Parliament and PAC can proceed with the issue on the basis of the CAG report. We don't want to encroach upon their exercise but the petition raises different things altogether. There are sufficient averments which require explanation from you," the court said.
Issuing the notice to the Government, the bench also made it clear that it is confining itself only to the aspect of guidelines formulated by the Centre for allocation of coal blocks and directed the Secretary, Ministry of Coal, file a detailed affidavit within eight weeks on the guidelines and policies followed on the subject of allocation of coal blocks.
The court passed the order while hearing a PIL filed by advocate M L Sharma on the alleged coal blocks scam which has purportedly caused a huge loss to public exchequer.
The bench said the affidavit shall cover the guidelines framed by the government for the allocation of coal blocks.
It said the Secretary should also elaborate the process adopted for allocation of these coal blocks and whether the guidelines had an in-built mechanism to ensure that the allocation of coal blocks does not lead to distribution of largesse unfairly in the hands of few private companies.
The bench also sought to know whether the guidelines for allocation of coal blocks were strictly followed and whether by their allocation, the objectives of policies were realised.
The bench wanted to know what were the hindrances for not following the policy of "competitive bidding" adopted by it in 2004 for allocation of the coal blocks.
Lastly, the court sought to know what steps were proposed to be taken against the allottees who have not adhered to the terms of allocation or have breached the agreement.
The apex court also made it clear that it is primarily concerned with the aspect of the adherence of the guidelines and policies concerning the allocation of coal blocks and all other aspects including the demand for the CBI probe into the alleged irregularities is not taken at this stage.
During the hearing, the Solicitor General informed the bench that the criminality aspect of the alleged irregularities in the coal block allocation was already being looked into by the CBI.
"We are at present touching the allocation part and no other thing," the bench said.
"Our focus is on the issue of guidelines followed in the allocation of coal blocks," it added.