"Coal allocations since 1993 are arbitrary and illegal", Says Supreme Court

Published: Tuesday, Aug 26,2014, 17:52 IST
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Coalgate, Congress Corruption, Coal allocations, Supreme Court

On the 25th August 2014, a damning judgment was released by the Supreme Court of India in relation to the CoalGate Scam conducted during the reign of the previous Congress government. The bench led by Chief Justice R M Lodha  were clearly unimpressed by the manner in which the former government had conducted itself in relation to coal block allocations and delivered a blistering verdict.

The landmark judgment is certainly worth a read. as it demonstrates the spectacular failure of the Congress regime. "The judges said "Common good and public interest have, thus, suffered heavily" demonstrating the disastrous impact on the Indian economy".

We previously discussed the slick moves of Naveen Jindal MP here. Avid followers of his antics will note that he is  peppered all through the detailed judgment. Both Jindal and his “friend” Mr Shashi Tharoor  had no comment to make on the judgment.

The masterfully written judgment on this complicated affair commences with a poignant introduction of the importance of coal in India.

The learned judge says, “Coal is king and paramount Lord of industry is an old  saying in the industrial world. Industrial greatness has been built up on coal by many countries. In India, coal is the most important  indigenous energy resource and remains the dominant fuel for power generation and many industrial applications. A number of major industrial sectors including iron and steel production depend on coal as a source of energy. The cement industry is also a major coal user. Coal’s potential as a feedstock for producing liquid  transport fuels is huge in India. Coal can help significant economic growth. India’s energy future and prosperity are integrally dependant upon mining and using its most abundant, affordable and dependant  energy supply – which is coal. Coal is extremely important element in the industrial life of developing India. In power, iron and steel, coal is used as an input and in cement, coal is used both as fuel and an input. It is no exaggeration that coal is regarded by many as the black diamond. Being such a significant, valuable and important natural resource, the allocation of coal blocks for the period 1993 to  2010 is the subject matter of this group of writ petitions filed in the nature of Public Interest Litigation, principally one by Manohar Lal Sharma and the other by the Common Cause”.

One must congratulate the parties for their bravery in bringing this matter to judicial scrutiny. For those of us who have followed these intrepid brave litigants, the journey has been virtually impossible as the case has been plagued with document losses and various Congress antics designed to escape accountability.  In 2013, the Central Bureau of Investigation [CBI] was famously labelled a “Caged Parrot” by the Supreme Court. The Times of India wrote  “Raising questions on the independence of CBI, the apex court called it a "caged parrot speaking in its master's voice".The court making a scathing comment on the functioning of the investigating agency said, "It's a sordid saga that there are many masters and one parrot.". Despite crippling problems, the case managed to reach final judgment. The Supreme Court must therefore be congratulated for its perseverance to ensure that justice is done for the Indian public.

Section 3 of the judgment goes on to list the grounds of this public interest litigation. In summary, amongst the myriad of  allegations were that the coal allocations were unlawful, corrupt, lacking in transparency and objectivity.

The overall importance of this case is essentially this - since 1993, the taxpayer was effectively robbed. The then ruling government of India fleeced the public and were never held to account. The individuals responsible then did their best to cover their tracks.  Not only did this behaviour impact on the public purse but it had a knock on effect in stunting the economical  growth of India. The fact that all this was done for so many years under the noses of the public is even more concerning. It demonstrates the lax attitude of Congress to integrity and accountability. The public’s blind faith in the Gandhi dynasty was clearly repaid by the entrenched opportunistic theft cleverly conducted under a mountain of paper that served as the government’s smoke-screen.

The court describes the issues in further detail, “The above facts show that it took almost 8 years in putting in place allocation of captive coal blocks through competitive bidding. During this period, many coal blocks were allocated giving rise to present controversy, which was avoidable because competitive bidding would have brought in transparency, objectivity and very importantly given a level playing field to all 85 applicants of coal and lowered the difference between the market price of coal and the cost of coal for the allottee by way of premium which would have accrued to the Government”. The court went onto say “However, if the allocation of subject coal blocks is inconsistent with Article 14 of the Constitution and the procedure that has been followed in such allocation is found to be unfair, unreasonable,  discriminatory, non-transparent, capricious or suffers from favoritism or nepotism and violative of the mandate of Article 14 of the Constitution, the consequences of such unconstitutional or illegal allocation must follow”. To sum up, the entire allocation of coal block as per recommendations made by the Screening Committee from 14.07.1993 in 36 meetings and the allocation through the Government dispensation route suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and legal flaws. The Screening Committee has never been consistent, it has not been transparent, there is no proper application of mind, it has acted on no material in many cases, relevant factors have seldom been its guiding factors, there was no transparency and guidelines have seldom guided it. On many occasions, guidelines have been honoured more in their breach. There was no objective criteria, nay, no criteria for evaluation of comparative merits. The approach had been ad-hoc and casual. There was no fair and transparent procedure, all resulting in unfair distribution of the national wealth. Common good and public interest have, thus, suffered heavily. Hence, the allocation of coal blocks based on the recommendations made in all the 36 meetings of the Screening Committee is illegal”.

“As we have already found that the allocations made, both under the Screening Committee route and the Government dispensation route, are arbitrary and illegal, what should be the consequences, is the issue which remains to be tackled. We are of the view that, to this limited extent, the matter requires further hearing”

Leading figures of the previous Congress government were questioned by NDTV but each slithered past this damning verdict citing that “they did what was always done”. The public is not about to buy this lame excuse from a lame party whose only interest was in destroying the economical stability of India. Many pockets were lined with gold while the vulnerable members of the public have suffered due to India’s economic downturn. The biggest question is what remedy does the public have? The next question is what kind of accountability will ensure these unlawful practices do not occur in the future again? These are difficult questions for the Supreme Court of India to consider. Despite Congress’ protestations as to their “innocence and naivety”, this party of greed has reaped the benefits for years and led a charmed life. Even after the Supreme Court has delivered a damning verdict and finally exposed their corrupt practices for the world to see, the previous ruling government do not have the integrity to apologise to the public. This lack of remorse for the daylight robbery of the public purse is the reason why Congress can never be elected back into power in the future.

Author : Dr Rita Pal, Follow her on twitter.com/dr_rita39

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