Two former IAS officers, facing prosecution in a coal scam case, today contradicted each other in a Delhi Court over the issue of recommendation of coal block to a private company in Jharkhand.
While ex-Chief Secretary of Jharkhand, Ashok Kumar Basu denied making any recommendation for allocation of coal block to Kolkata-based Vini Iron and Steel Udyog Ltd, the then Union Coal Secretary H C Gupta said that there was a "strong recommendation" from him.
The contradiction in the stand taken by the two former bureaucrats, who are also accused, was questioned by the judge who asked whose version he should believe.
"One accused says I did not insist on allocation coal block to this company, the other accused says he had insisted. Whom should I believe," Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar said.
The judge was hearing the arguments on framing of charges in the case in which both of them along with former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and six others were summoned as accused by the court. The arguments will continue tomorrow.
Basu's counsel claimed that the allegation against him in CBI's charge sheet that he insisted upon allocation of coal block in Jharkhand to Vini Iron and Steel Udyog Ltd (VISUL) was "incorrect".
He also argued that the 36th screening committee members had unanimously signed for allocation to VISUL.
His claim, however, was contradicted by Gupta who said Basu had "strongly recomended" VISUL for Jharkhand's Rajhara (north) coal block allocation.
"The chief secretary (Basu) had strongly recommended VISUL for the coal block. Gupta was merely the coal secretary and Chairman of the screening committee which was not the final authority to allocate coal block. It was merely recommending authority.
"Recommendation was made by the screening committee members unanimously and as per the guidelines," Gupta's advocate argued before Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar.
He added that Gupta was not having dominion over the coal block and charges of criminal breach of trust by public sevant under the IPC and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
During the arguments, Basu's counsel said that there was no overwhelming evidence against him warranting framing of charges and no observation/comment was made by him on the file while forwarding it to the then Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, R S Cheema, appointed by the apex court as Special Public Prosecutor in the case, argued that there were specific acts of omission and commission of public servants involved in the case and there were specific acts that showed a "criminal conspiracy" was hatched by government officials and private parties.
He said the screening committee recommended the coal block to VISUL despite having no recommendation by the Ministry of Steel and Jharkhand government.
"This is a case where we have been able to show the deep rooted conspiracy made by the accused and tied them up together," the prosecutor said, adding that he was relying on the summoning order of the court.
Cheema also argued that after detailed probe, it transpired that the accused were behind the conspiracy and they struck a deal with the support of the then Chief Minister of the State Madhu Koda.
"The deal was struck to press for (allocation of coal block) to this company (VISUL)... The chief secretary (Basu) betted for this company. When the chief secretary persisted, chairman of the screening committee (Gupta) dealt with it and allocation was made to this company," he argued.
The case pertains to alleged irregularities in allocation of Rajhara North coal block in Jharkhand to accused VISUL.
Apart from VISUL, Koda, Basu and Gupta, public servants Bipin Bihari Singh and Basant Kumar Bhattacharya,Kolkata-based VISUL's Director Vaibhav Tulsyan, chartered accountant Navin Kumar Tulsyan and Koda's alleged close aide Vijay Joshi are accused in the case.
These eight individual accused were granted bail by the court after they had appeared before it in pursuance to the summons issued against them.
During the arguments, counsel for VISUL contended that the firm was prosecuted as juristic person and has no mind of its own. Except one director, the CBI has not prosecuted any other directors and if they had not done anything wrong, how can anything be done by the firm which does not have its own heart and brain.
Counsel representing Bipin Bihari Singh submitted that there was no factual misrepresentation and he cannot be presumed to be involed in any conspiracy just because he had put up a note.
During the hearing, the court was irked over the counsel for accused seeking more time to advance the arguments on framing of charges and warned them of imposing a cost of Rs 10,000 each.
The judge called all the accused near the dias and said he was being forced to take coercive action.
"You must be following the proceedings. I am being forced to take coercive action. You all have been senior officers and big businessmen. I am reiterating that I am being compelled to take coercive action.
"You are trying to make fool of me. I am telling you if you take the court for a ride, I will not leave you and will take you all for a ride," the judge said.
Earlier, the court while granting bail to the eight individual accused had observed that Koda and others holding high positions allegedly misappropriated the natural resource.
The court had then said that Koda and seven others, including Basu and Gupta, "clearly conspired together" to misappropriate important natural resources.
They were summoned as accused after the court had taken cognisance of the offences under sections 120-B (criminal conspiracy) read with 420 (cheating) and 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servants) of the IPC and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Out of these accused persons, CBI had not chargesheeted Navin Kumar Tulsyan saying no prosecutable evidence could come on record during the course of investigation.
However, the court had summoned him as an accused saying that being a chartered accountant, Navin allegedly gave a false certificate to facilitate VISUL to misrepresent about its net worth and turn-over to acquire the coal block.
CBI, in its charge sheet, had said that VISUL had applied for allocation of Rajhara North coal block on January 8, 2007 to the Ministry of Coal.
CBI said although Jharkhand government and Steel Ministry did not recommend the case of VISUL for the coal block allocation, the 36th Screening Committee recommended the block to the accused firm.