Coalgate: CBI begins grilling former secretary H C Gupta

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) today began questioning former coal secretary H C Gupta in connection with the coal block allocation scam.

Gupta, an accused in a case related to the scam, had recently resigned as a member of Competition Commission of India (CCI). He is being questioned in connection with allocations of coal blocks during his tenure as secretary, from 2006 to 2009.

Gupta is reportedly being questioned about the clearances for the allocation of coal blocks given by the screening committee which he chaired on several occasions.

The CBI had earlier questioned two former officials in the Prime Minister's Office, Vini Mahajan and Ashish Gupta, as part of its 'coalgate' probe.

The agency might also record the statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's adviser T K A Nair as witness in connection with the alleged irregularities in the allocations made during 2006 to 2009.

Summoned by the CBI as an accused, Gupta, a 1971 batch Indian Administrative Services officer, faced many questions about the allocation of coal blocks to some companies during his stint as the secretary in the ministry, official sources said.

The government had initially refused to grant permission to CBI to question Gupta as he was a member of CCI but yielded after the agency decided to inform the Supreme Court about not getting sanction to proceed against him.

During the period in question, 68 coal blocks were allotted to 151 companies and files of some of them had gone missing.

The Government gave the permission on 11 June and a day later Gupta submitted his resignation from the CCI.

The CBI has registered 13 first information reports (FIRs) related to alleged irregularities in the allotment coal blocks between 2006 and 2009.

In a recent FIR, the agency named as accused Congress MP Naveen Jindal, former minister of state for coal D Narayana Rao, and unknown officials of the screening committee which clears allocation of coal blocks and is normally chaired by the coal secretary.

The CBI sources said the committee did not follow the mandatory procedures and did not carry out proper background checks while allocating coal blocks to the companies.

In its status report filed on 8 March the CBI had said that the coal blocks allocation during 2006-09 was done without verifying the credentials of companies which allegedly misrepresented facts about themselves and no rationale was given by the coal ministry in giving coal blocks to them.

Last month, the CBI was at the receiving end of the Supreme Court's ire for sharing its status report in the coal scam with the then law minister Ashwani Kumar and senior officials of the PMO and the coal ministry and also incorporating changes suggested by them. Kumar subsequently resigned.