The final years of the Congress-led UPA II government were dogged by several scandals and allegations of corruption, but the coal allocation scam or ‘Coalgate’ was the most prominent one. On March 28th, 2016, a Special Court hearing the coal scam cases announced its 1st guilty verdict in the case of a misallocated coal block in Jharkhand.
Here are the salient facts about this judgement.
A quick recall: What was the coal allocation scandal all about?
The coal allocation scandal came to light in 2012, when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) accused the Government of inefficient allocations of coal blocks that cost the national exchequer Rs. 1.76 lakh crore. The ruling Congress-led coalition was shaken by the ensuing controversy, especially since PM Manmohan Singh had been in charge of the Coal Ministry as well. In light of these revelations, the Supreme Court decided in 2014 to cancel almost all coal allocations made since 1993, grinding the coal industry in India to a halt.
The CBI filed charges in March 2015 regarding the misallocation of Jharkhand’s North Dhadu coal block
The Supreme Court ordered the establishment of a special CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) court to handle coal scam related cases. In March 2015, the CBI filed charges of criminal conspiracy and fraud against Jharkhand Ispat Pvt. Ltd. (JIPL), and directors RS Rungta and RC Rungta, in relation to the irregularities in their acquisition of the mining rights for the North Dhadu coal block in Jharkhand.
On 28th March 2016, the court announced a guilty verdict against JIPL and the Rungtas
Having heard all arguments in the case (including a rejected plea to summon former PM Manmohan Singh as a defence witness), the court came back with a guilty verdict on all counts against JIPL and the Rungtas, noting that “the intention to defraud on the part of the accused persons is writ large on the face of record” and that their actions “in making all such false claims knowing them to be false were actuated with an intention to deceive MOC (Ministry of Coal) and thereby Government of India.” They were sentenced on March 31st.
CBI special court gave another verdict on the scam in May 2017
The court sentenced former secretary H.C. Gupta, former joint secretary in Coal Ministry K.S. Kropha and former director of Coal Ministry K.C. Samaria 2 years in prison for their involvement in Coalgate. The 3 were found guilty under Prevention of Corruption Act and Indian Penal Code.
This is just 2 cases that the court ruled on, as it has many pending cases that are being investigated by the CBI and the ED (Enforcement Directorate). A similarly speedy and transparent resolution of the remaining cases will go a long way towards helping the coal industry regain public confidence.