The government’s been left red-faced. At least 45 crucial files related to policy matters and industrial projects have gone missing from the environment ministry (MoEF).
The missing files have also attracted the attention of the country’s premier investigating agency, the CBI. CBI officers met ministry officials at least twice last month. A source said the officers will again meet ministry officials this month.
Among the missing files is one on the Mundra Port of Gautam Adani-led Adani Ports & Special Economic Zone (APSEZ) in Gujarat’s Kutch district.
The ministry is still to formally find out which or how many files are missing. Sources say if this is done the number would go up considerably.
“We came to know of these 45 missing files when we wanted to go through them for official reasons,” a senior ministry official said. He, however, went on the defensive saying the missing files would not affect any major policy decision or ministry’s action “for or against” any industrial group.
Also, the official stressed that the CBI did not inquire about the missing files. “They wanted to know about the delay in processing files, and the alleged corrupt practices prevalent in the ministry... They said they will come again, maybe after elections. But it seems they were not clear about what they actually wanted to know.”
A CBI source said the agency is likely to start a formal inquiry into the matter after the elections. It would mainly focus on files that have gone missing over the years from the ministry.
“There could be a deliberate attempt on part of some of the ministry officials to misplace or destroy files for various benefits,” a CBI officer said.
In Gautam Adani’s case, the ministry is left with a photocopy of the original file, which may not be considered authentic if any action is to be taken in the matter.
“We needed to look into Adani’s file in view of a complaint regarding some violation of rules at the Mundra project.
“But we could not take any action because the original file is missing,” another ministry official said. He, however, quickly added that the “violation was minor”. “We are now thinking of how to use the information available in the photocopy.”
As of April 2014, environmental and coastal regulatory zone clearances for one of the facilities proposed by APSEZ at the Mundra port have been withheld by the ministry’s experts appraisal committee. It has sought a detailed action plan.
In an attempt to control further damage, the ministry has started to digitise all its records to rid its traditional fifth floor store room of files at Paryavaran Bhavan.
But digitisation may also help the environment ministry to know how many more files have gone missing.