"What were the guidelines followed by the screening committee? Whether guidelines were disclosed in the advertisement inviting applications for allocation of coal blocs," asked a bench of Justice RM Lodha, Justice Madan B Lokur and Justice Kurian Joseph.
The screening committee was in the coal ministry that scrutinizes the applications for coal block allocations and takes a decision.
"You have not shown us the minutes of the 36th meeting of the screening committee. It is only the minutes of the screening committee that can demonstrate the mode and manner of exercise undertaken. We have to see whether it (allocation of coal blocks) is as per the norms," the court told Attorney General GE Vahanvati as he informed it that the advertisement for inviting applications for allocations were issued in 2005 and screening committee meetings took place in 2006.
The court said that it was calling for the minutes because "it is alleged that coal blocks were allocated in an arbitrary manner and given in ulterior manner. The justification of the allocation of coal blocks should emanate from screening committee minutes".
Asking whether the Screening Committee members have explained their position, the court said: "The decision can only be explained by those involved in it and not the outsiders."
"We are on the exercise when you consider merits and demerits (of the application for allocations). They (the proceedings) of the meeting should reflect this."
The court's observation came as it referred to the 36th meeting of the screening committee which revealed that out of 115 applications, the power ministry and the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) recommended 28 applications for the allocations of coal blocks.
Of the 28 applications recommended by the CEA for allocation of coal blocs, the screening committee cleared 20 applications and declined eight. Besides this, it granted 11 more applications.
"It is very strange why were those in respect of which recommendations were made by the Central Electricity Authority, the screening committee did not accept them. How 20 were accepted, eight were rejected and 11 more companies were added by the screening committee which neither power ministry nor CEA had recommended."
"It is very strange that screening committee had excluded eight companies recommended by the power ministry and CEA. It has to be shown that screening committee followed uniform guidelines for selecting 20 and rejecting eight," the court said.
"Why and how they (11 companies) were brought? What additional factors were included by the Screening Committee to add 11 companies and to exclude eight," it asked.
Attorney General Vahanvati also told the court that government has put 41 coal block allocations on notice to comply with the statutory requirements for getting mining leases failing which they would face termination of the allocations.
He said 27 allocations are in category one where there are no forest and environment clearance, 10 are in category two where they have all the clearances but need afforestation clearance from the ministry and four are those which have all the clearances but awaiting mining leases from the state government.
The attorney general told the court that in the first category, they have been given three weeks time failing which their allocation would be cancelled in a week thereafter.
In the case of second category, these allocations have been four weeks failing which their allocation would be terminated in two weeks thereafter.
In respect of four allocations where state government has not issued mining leases, the court asked the government to hold back its action.