Coal scam: Former Jharkhand CM Madhu Koda, eight others ordered to be put on trial

New Delhi: Former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, ex-Coal Secretary H C Gupta and seven others were today ordered to be put on trial by a special court, which observed that they had allegedly conspired and acted in a “blatant and brazen manner” in allocation of a coal block.

Others against whom charges were ordered to be framed were former Jharkhand Chief Secretary Ashok Kumar Basu, two public servants – Basant Kumar Bhattacharya and Bipin Bihari Singh – Vini Iron and Steel Udyog Ltd (VISUL), its director Vaibhav Tulsyan, Koda’s alleged close aide Vijay Joshi and chartered accountant Navin Kumar Tulsyan.

The court noted in its 84-page order that various acts of omission and commission committed by the accused prima facie made it clear that they had conspired with a “sole objective” to accomodate VISUL in Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block in Jharkhand.

“However, the blatant and brazen manner in which various public servants acted in conspiracy with the private parties involved so as to procure not only allotment of a coal block but also excess coal is prima facie writ large on the face of the record. The overall facts and circumstances of the case thus give rise to grave suspicion against all the accused persons warranting framing of charge for various offences…,” Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar said.

The court held that offence of Section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC was prima facie made out against all nine accused, while charge under relevant penal provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act was made out against five public servants — Koda, Gupta, Basu, Singh and Bhattacharya.

The court said Gupta also prima facie committed offence under section 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) of the IPC while Vaibhav Tulsyan, Joshi and VISUL prima facie committed offence of cheating under section 420 of the IPC.

“Thus, even if various acts of omission and commission as committed by the accused persons are considered comprehensively then also it is prima facie clear that they all were acting in pursuance to a criminal conspiracy whose sole objective was to accommodate M/s VISUL in Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block,” the judge said.

The case pertains to alleged irregularities in allocation of Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block to Kolkata- based firm VISUL.

Detailing Koda’s role, the court said though he had sought to distance himself from the acts of other officers by stating that he merely endorsed various notings made by them, “but the overall facts and circumstances of the case clearly suggests to the contrary.”

“A grave suspicion thus arises qua the role of accused Madhu Koda also in the impugned criminal conspiracy. I may further mention that at this stage I am not entering into the allegations of the prosecution that accused Vijay Joshi was a close aid of Madhu Koda or that accused Madhu Koda acquired interest in VISUL through his close aid Vijay Joshi or that it was for this reason that the fortune of the company suddenly turned around and it was even recommended for sole allocation of Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block,” it said.

“Thus, he cannot claim now that initial recommendation was made by him without any application of mind,” it said.

The court said that Gupta, being the Coal Secretary and Chairman of the screening committee, had dominion over the nationalised natural resources of the country but he prima facie “acted in violation of the trust imposed in him by law and facilitated allocation of impugned coal block in favour of M/s VISUL.”

Regarding VISUL, Vaibhav Tulsyan and Vijay Joshi, who was Managing Director of VISUL, the court said they prima facie cheated the Ministry of Coal (MoC) by “securing allotment of impugned coal block on the basis of false information about group turnover/group profit and net-worth and thereby inducing it to part with impugned coal block in favour of M/s VISUL.”

It said that acts of the Jharkhand-based accused public servants – Koda, Basu, Singh and Bhattacharya – clearly fell within the four corners of the offence of criminal misconduct as defined under section 13(1)(d) of the anti-graft law.

“From the aforesaid discussion, it is thus clear that the present case involves a number of triable issues which raises grave suspicion about the role played by various accused persons and the said issues cannot be adjudicated upon at the stage of charge itself while denying the prosecution a right to prove its case,” the court said.

The judge further said that “apart from the individual role played by various accused persons as discussed above, I may also mention that a bare perusal of the facts and circumstances of the case clearly suggest that though various accused persons acted at different times, but they all were in tandem to favour M/s VISUL in somehow procuring sole allocation of Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block in its favour.”

Regarding Gupta, the court said that while forwarding the recommendation of screening committee to the Minister of Coal, who was then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, he did not disclose anywhere that the committee’s recommendation was “at variance with the recommendation of state of Jharkhand as was earlier received.”

It noted that when Gupta had met T K A Nair, who was then Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, he said that the recommendations of the screening committee were made in accordance with the merits of the applicant companies and the recommendations of the state where the coal blocks were located.

“Once again he (Gupta) chose to keep silence as regard the fact that qua Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block the state government recommendation was not in favour of M/s VISUL or was in favour of other companies. He also did not mention this fact in his noting while forwarding the file to PMO, though he mentioned about various other facts,” it said.

“Apart from the aforesaid facts and circumstances there are other acts of omission and commission on the part of accused H C Gupta in his capacity as Secretary MOC (Ministry of Coal) which prima facie indicates his involvement in the impugned criminal conspiracy to somehow allot the impugned coal block in favour of M/s VISUL,” the court said.

Regarding Basant Kumar Bhattacharya, who was then section officer in Department of Mines of Jharkhand, and Bipin Bihari Singh, then Director Mines in Jharkhand, the court said they were prima facie part of the entire conspiracy which led to allocation of coal block to VISUL.

“However I may state that the facts and circumstances of the case in hand presents a picture where the acts committed by accused persons prima facie speak for themselves and this court has not attempted to enter into any enquiry of any kind at this stage of the matter much less a roving enquiry,” the judge said.

Detailing Basu’s role, the court said his conduct raised “grave suspicion” of him being “prima facie hands in glove with other officers of Jharkhand including its Chief Minister, accused Madhu Koda, so as to somehow ensure sole allocation of Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block in favour of M/s VISUL.”

Regarding Joshi, the court said not only was he the MD of the accused firm but was “actively involved in the various acts of commission and omission committed by the company”.

“Thus accused Vijay Joshi was clearly in complete control of the company and is thus prima facie responsible for all acts of omission and commission,” it said.

“Undoubtedly, evidence qua the offence of criminal conspiracy is hard to come up but the same is to be ascertained from the over all facts and circumstances of a given case. Thus if the entire process of allocation of impugned coal block as discussed above is seen and analysed, the same prima facie reflects the active collusion between the public servants involved in the process and the private parties in whose favour the coal block stood allotted,” the court said.

Regarding the accused public servants, the court said that holders of public office were accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and they must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate.

“Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands,” it said.

The court also said that “holders of public office are not only expected to discharge their duties objectively, honestly and with openness but also they cannot claim that they are not accountable.”

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 had alleged that although Jharkhand government and the Steel Ministry did not recommend VISUL’s case for the coal block allocation, the 36th Screening Committee recommended the block to the accused firm.

Input with PTI