The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is all set to quiz the top guns of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in its Coalgate scam probe.

Highly placed sources confirmed to Mail Today that among those likely to face CBI questioning include TKA Nair, who was principal secretary to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2009 when he also handled the coal portfolio. Nair, a former IAS officer of the Punjab cadre, now holds the rank of a minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Also in the CBI’s sights is then joint secretary Javed Usmani, now the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh. The agency is expected to seek some information from former director in the PMO Vini Mahajan, an IAS officer of the Punjab cadre who is now Principal Secretary (Health) in the Punjab government.

The CBI list includes former coal secretary C. Balakrishnan as well. Sources say that the questioning of These officials would be pivotal for the ongoing probe, but this may only widen the faultlines between the government and the premier investigating agency as it is unlikely that the Prime Minister will allow the questioning of his close confidante and key aide Nair who still wields considerable influence in the PMO. Nair is no longer principal secretary to the prime minister, but continues to serve as adviser.

The CBI is going to seek permission to question under Section 6A of the Delhi Special Police Act. It is unlikely that the Prime Minister’s office will grant permission as letting Nair questioned by the CBI may embarrass the Prime Minister further and may land the Coalgate taint closer to his doorstep.

States have a say

Things aren’t entirely in the PMO’s hands, however. Nair may be behind the PMO wall, but for the Usmani and Mahajan it will be chief ministers Akhilesh Yadav and Parkash Singh Badal who will take the decision on allowing their questioning. That could create an interesting situation if the two decide to let their officials be questioned by the CBI because it will embarrass the government. Usmani’s case is the strangest, as all files relating to sanction for questioning or prosecution of officials above the rank of joint secretary are meant to be cleared by the state’s chief secretary.

The CBI’s timing will also come as bad news for the government because it may bring the scandal back to the headlines, and provide new ammunition to the Opposition.

Gupta deja vu The government has last week turned down a CBI request on questioning former coal secretary H.C. Gupta, now a member of the Competition Commission of India, in connection with the irregularities in allocation of coal blocks. Sources said the request was turned down by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs despite the agency arguing that Gupta’s questioning was important as he was secretary between 2006 and 2009, a period that is under the scanner.

Sources said the CBI would be telling the Supreme Court about the decision of the government on not allowing Gupta, a 1971 batch IAS officer of Uttar Pradesh cadre, to be questioned and issue necessary directions.

The CBI has registered 11 FIRs related to alleged irregularities in the allotment coal blocks between 2006 and 2009.

During this period, 68 coal blocks were allotted to 151 companies and files of some of them had gone missing. The CBI has questioned former Union ministers Santosh Bagrodia and D. Narayan Rao and Congress MP Vijay Darda so far.

The PMO was singed by the growing heat of the scam last month, when then law minister Ashwani Kumar was forced out following the disclosure that he got the CBI’s Coalgate report to the apex court changed.

SC flak

PMO officials had faced the flak as the Supreme Court lambasted the government over the access given by the CBI to Shatrughna Singh and A.K. Bhalla, joint secretaries at the PMO and coal ministry respectively, and had asked “what business” they had in looking at the report.The court has said that the changes made to the CBI’s Preliminary Enquiry 2 Report dealt with coal allocations from 2006 to 2009. when the coal portfolio was held by the prime minister. The Coalgate scandal is primarily about allegations that the UPA government adopted a policy of favouritism in allotting coalfields to private firms.

Courtesy: INDIA