As the year draws to a close and an electorally charged 2014 begins, CBI sleuths are wondering how to complete investigation into the allocation of 192 coal blocks, in which they have managed to register only 14 First Information Reports so far.
The Supreme Court, which is monitoring the probe, has already pulled up the CBI for its “slow pace of investigation”. During the last hearing on August 29, the apex court’s rebuff loaded with sarcasm could not be missed when it compared the CBI probe speed to driving in “first gear”.
Needless to say, probe officers are now picking up speed so that they can meet the December deadline.
“We know we are racing against time. We need to complete our probe in the given time frame.
But, with limited hands at our disposal, and thousands of documents that still need to be examined, we cannot start file fresh cases,” a senior CBI officer said.
The CBI officer also blamed “delay in getting files from the coal ministry” and the fact that several files have also gone “missing”.
The federal agency is investigating irregularities in allocation of 192 coal blocks which were awarded to about 300 private companies by “flouting all norms.” According to a senior CBI official, out of the 192 blocks, 142 were allocated when the coal ministry was under the direct charge of prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh.
In an affidavit filed before the apex court, the CBI had said it is taking up investigations against each and every company that has been allocated coal blocks since 1993 and “in particular between 2006-08” when the coal ministry was under PM’s charge.
The agency has so far registered three preliminary enquiries relating to allocations made between 2006 and 2009, allocations made between 1993 and 2004, and allocations made to joint venture companies.
At present, a team of 33 CBI officers is involved in the probe. During its last hearing, the CBI had even sought the permission of the apex court to increase the strength of its team.
The CBI has so far booked top industrialists and corporate houses including Naveen Jindal, Dasari Narayan Rao, Kumar Manglam Birla and former coal Secretary PC Parakh.
CBI officials maintain that they might need some more time to file charge sheet against the erring companies and individuals.