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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Coalgate and the hand of Justice ....... !!

Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock usually occurring in rock strata in layers or veins called coal beds or coal seams. Coal is composed primarily of carbon along with variable quantities of other elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen.  For some, however, even this black particle is ‘Gold’. 

Coal allocation scam or Coalgate, is a major political scandal concerning the Indian government's allocation of the nation's coal deposits to public sector entities (PSEs) and private companies. In a draft report issued in March 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) office accused the Government of India of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during the period 2004–2009. Over the Summer of 2012, the opposition BJP lodged a complaint resulting in a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into whether the allocation of the coal blocks was in fact influenced by corruption.  The essence of the CAG's argument is that the Government had the authority to allocate coal blocks by a process of competitive bidding, but chose not to. As a result both public sector enterprises (PSEs) and private firms paid less than they might have otherwise. In its draft report in March the CAG estimated that the "windfall gain" to the allocatees was  10673 billion (US$170 billion)

Over the years, the coal block allocation has been in news alleging high level corruption.  The CBI has named a dozen Indian firms in a FIR. The issue has received massive media reaction and public outrage. A special court recently fixed July 15 for hearing a coal block allocation scam case in which the Supreme Court had on April 1 stayed the summons issued against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and others. Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar, who had on March 11 summoned Singh and others as accused, deferred the hearing, observing that the operations of the order passed by him have been stayed by the apex court.

Without taking sides and alleging anybody as corrupt, this news of Times of India [as also in many other sections of the Press] would stump one : - it reads – ‘Manmohan coal scam case may not come up before 2018’- is that justice delayed  !! 

The report states that the former PM’s appeal challenging the order appears to have gone into deep freeze and is unlikely to be heard by the SC at least in the next three years !!   Those worrying about Manmohan Singh because of a trial court summoning him as an accused in a coal scam-related case can afford to relax. The former PM's appeal challenging the order appears to have gone into deep freeze and is unlikely to be heard by the Supreme Court at least in the next three years.

A bench of Justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan had on April 1 'admitted' Singh's appeal, stayed the summons and all proceedings initiated by the trial court against the ex-PM and other accused. The words 'admit' and 'grant of leave' on special leave petitions have special significance in Supreme Court procedures. Whenever the court finds that a substantial question of law has been raised by a petitioner requiring detailed hearing, which could span days together, it grants leave or 'admits' the petitions to be heard later without assigning a date.

While admitting special leave petitions of Singh and others, the bench said, "Since certain important substantial questions of law as well as the constitutional validity of Section 13(1)(d)(iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 are raised in the instant petitions, we are of the view that these matters require examination."  Like in all such instances, the judges did not give any date for listing of these petitions. The registry also did not indicate any likely date for listing of the appeals.  Going by the queue system for hearing of admitted appeals, the petition filed by Singh and others summoned as accused in the case related to alleged irregular allotment of Talabira-II coal block could take five years to get listed for hearing. At present, the SC is hearing criminal petitions 'admitted' by various benches in 2009-10 and seldom hears out of turn appeals which are admitted thereafter.

Given the fast-tracking of pending appeals undertaken by the registry, pursued seriously by Chief Justice H L Dattu, the long queue of cases awaiting hearing could be judicially dealt with in 3-4 years. This means, Singh's appeal may be heard only in 2018. Till then, as per the apex court's April 1 order, the proceedings before the trial court against Singh and other accused will remain stayed. While this will not put an end to the case against the former PM, the summons against him will remain frozen, insulating him from the risk of any legal trouble.

Even in the high profile case Nirbhaya case, the SC has said it will not hear the appeals against death sentences to the accused out of turn. "There are 23 death reference cases pending in the Supreme Court which are older than Nirbhaya case. We go in the chronological order of the cases reaching the SC. We are now hearing appeals against death penalty cases which were filed in 2012 and 2013. Nirbhaya case appeal was filed in SC in 2014. So it will await its turn," CJI H L Dattu had said.
The delay will also suit CBI which unsuccessfully argued for closure of the case against Singh and will be required, whenever SC hears the appeal, to make the difficult choice between sticking to its original stand or arguing for sustaining the summoning order. Mr Singh, in his 184-page petition in the SC, has raised 19 substantial questions of law.

In our school days, there was this short story in English lesson ~ one by the eminent Russian – Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1872, titled - "God Sees the Truth, But Waits" –  a story of a man sent to prison for a murder he didn't commit ~ the brilliant narrative took the form of a parable of forgiveness.   It was the short story of  Ivan Dmitrich Aksionov, a merchant living in a town in Russia, Vladimir.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

9th Apr 2015.

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