New Delhi, Sep 17 (PTI): The Centre today faced a tough time in justifying the controversial coal block allocations in the Supreme Court which fired a volley of questions seeking explanation on various issues including why bidding procedure was not followed in giving away the valuable natural resource.
A bench headed by Justice R M Lodha repeatedly asked Attorney General G E Vahanvati to explain whether various methods adopted for coal block allocation since 1992 had a sanction of law and under what law the screening committee was authorised to decide on allocation.
The AG, who was flanked by Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran and Additional Solicitor General Paras Kuhad to defend the government, assured the court that he will explain all the queries and referred to circumstances in 1992 which led to liberalised policy on coal block allocation.
He submitted that there has been no violations in the allocations. The AG said every participative procedure involving state government was followed at each stage of policy formation and the proposal for bidding procedure was made by the Prime Minister himself.
The bench questioned why the screening committee was set up to decide coal block allocation which was earlier done by Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL), a subsidiary of Coal India Limited.
“CMPDIL was supposed to identify the coal blocks and not the screening committee. It(CMPDIL) became an extra player as its role was played by the screening committee. CMPDIL is entirely different from the committee. You must tell us what is the reason for departure from that system,” the bench, also also comprising justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph, said.
“We must have all booklets of CNDPIL for identifying coal blocks, how application was received by the Centre, setting up of the commiittee and the procedure followed by the committee,” the bench said telling the AG that “the ball is in his court” to give explanation.
“There are so many balls that one gets confused,” the AG replied in a lighter vein.
He said that an impression has been created in the court that coal blocks were allocated like channa-murmura. The bench then replied, “Even for channa-murmura one has to pay the price. They (petitioners)are saying that coal blocks were given free of cost.”
“Policies might be based on prevailing circumstances at a given time. The question is whether the policy is in tune with the law. Once a policy has been framed, it must have sanction of law,” the bench said when Vahanvati was focusing his arguments on the 1992 liberalising economic policy.
Interjecting, the bench asked the AG to come directly to the issue of allocation rather deliberating on the 1992 economic policy. The AG will continue his submissions tomorrow.
The apex court was hearing final arguments on two separate PILs filed by an NGO and advocate M L Sharma respectively seeking cancellation of coal blocks allocation.
They submitted that the allocation process was “non-transparent, unfair and tainted” leading to windfall gains running into lakhs of crores of rupees to a few private firms and wanted the allotments to be cancelled.
The very basis of the allotment of coal blocks without any competitive bidding process was against the doctrine of trusteeship and the Constitutional mandate under Article 14, they had said.
“Even according to CBI FIRs, crimes under the Prevention of Corruption Act were committed during the allotment of coal blocks. The arbitrary allocation of coal blocks resulted in a windfall gain to a few private parties running into lakhs of crores of rupees and a corresponding loss to the public exchequer”, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for the NGO, had said.