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3 babus convicted in coal scam: bureaucracy feels it will hinder functioning

Catch Team | Updated on: 23 May 2017, 8:48 IST
(Noah Seelam/AFP Photo)

In a first, three bureaucrats including former coal secretary HC Gupta have been sentenced to two years in jail for their involvement in the coal scam. However, all three convicted coal ministry officials – including Gupta, Meghalaya chief secretary KS Kropha and another senior IAS officer KC Samaria – were later granted bail by the Special CBI court.

The sentencing comes as a jolt to the bureaucracy. The bureaucrats claim that such a conviction, where a former senior bureaucrat has been sentenced on charges of criminal conspiracy and collusion – when both of these are not made out in the judgment – would hinder the 'ease of doing business'. Instead it may lead to the bureaucrats looking for excuses to sit on the files.

"It is wrong to call it a conspiracy. The judgment fails to bring out any conspiracy or motive in the case," Shailaja Chandra, a former IAS said in an interview to a news channel. "How is it possible if the state government, which recommended the allotment has not been held responsible?"

Some of Gupta's former colleagues, have taken to blogs to express their frustration with the proceedings in the case. The IAS Association which earlier approached Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the matter, however, is yet to come out with any statement on the conviction and sentencing.

HC Gupta

The case which led to sentencing of the bureaucrats

The case is one of the many in the coal block allocation scam which was pegged to be a mammoth loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the public exchequer for the government, instead of auctioning the coal blocks, between 2004 and 2009, allotted them to public and private entities.

The case was transferred to the CBI in 2012 and has since singed the former CBI chief, Ranjit Sinha, who has become the first chief in the history of the apex investigating agency who is under investigation by the agency itself for meeting the coal scam accused at his residence.

"All the five accused persons ie accused company M/s Kamal Sponge Steel Private Limited, Pawan Kumar Ahluwalia, HC. Gupta, KS Kropha and director KC Samria stand convicted for the offences u/s 120B IPC r/w section 420 IPC and section 13 (1)(d) (ii)/13(1)(d)(iii) of Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988," Special CBI judge Parashar reportedly said pronouncing the judgment at the Patiala House Court. KSSPL was allotted the Rudrapur coal block.

While Gupta argued that the final decision was taken by the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also the then coal minister, the court found Gupta and other officials of the coal ministry in a casual and arbitrary manner. CBI, too, had accused Gupta and others of misleading the former PM Manmohan Singh and others.

Gupta maintains his innocence

Gupta, in a surprise move, during the course of the trial, told the court how he would face trial from jail, instead of opting for a bail. He also said that he cannot afford a lawyer. The statement had shook the serving bureaucrats who then came out in support and sought PM’s intervention. They had also asked Gupta to reconsider his decision.

“IAS officers take numerous decisions on files every day. There can be errors of judgment in the course of work. But that does not mean there is any criminal intent or quid pro quo. In the larger interest of governance this needs to be understood,” Sanjay Bhoosreddy, secretary of the IAS Association, had told a newspaper in an interview.

"If a secretary will now start looking at all the files in detail, all of the projects will end up delayed by 20 years," Bhoosreddy said in an interview to a news channel after the sentencing.

After the sentencing, too, at least two former bureaucrats have taken to blogs to express their frustration. The blogs are being pushed by many serving IAS officers on social media.

V Ramani, a former bureaucrat, in his blog post writes how “it is scarring for a bureaucrat, known for his rectitude, to have his reputation besmirched by imputations of such conduct, especially when he was implementing the executive policy in force at the time he was in office.”

Sanjeev Ahluwalia, another former bureaucrat, however, is not so generous to the ministry of coal officials. But in his blog raises some important questions. Questioning how the CBI judge merely convicted all three officials on circumstantial evidence, he asks, if “is it sufficient to rely on the mere fact that the three convicted officers were all from the IAS to establish that only they were part of a conspiracy?” 

He also questions why “even if there was a conspiracy, why was the relevant chain of officers in the administrative ministry (Ministry of Steel) or in the government of Madhya Pradesh not similarly charged? They did not object to the incorrect inclusion of the applicant. Nor did they object to the allocation, either during, or after the steering committee meeting.”

He further writes, “If there was a conspiracy within the Ministry of Coal, surely the extent of it needs to be established. Could it not, for example, extend to the then Minister of Coal, who was also the Prime Minister- Dr. Manmohan Singh?”

First published: 22 May 2017, 23:08 IST