NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday smelt a rat in allocation of coal blocks to private parties for captive use as it found documents contradicting the Centre’s consistent stand that no coalfield area associated with public sector undertaking Coal India Ltd (CIL) was given away.

A bench of Justices R M Lodha, Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph stumbled upon fresh information – some coal blocks which were part of CIL mining areas were allocated to private players — while scrutinizing documents to understand when and how task of identification of coal blocks for private players was shifted from Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Ltd (CMPDIL) to CIL.

Attorney general G E Vahanvati, who appeared to be comfortable addressing the court’s queries on the need for allocation of coal blocks to private parties for captive use, too was taken by surprise by the sudden development. He sought time to get instructions from CIL and CMPDIL about status of coal blocks prior to their allocation to private parties.

The court allowed the Centre time till Tuesday to find out whether some of the coal blocks allotted to private players were part of CIL assets. Vahanvati said the Centre would file a fresh affidavit taking a stand on this issue.

The ease with which Vahanvati meticulously explained why and how the policy decision came into being for allocation of coal blocks for captive consumption of power projects by private players ended the moment the bench found from the very same documents that there was no fresh identification of coal blocks for allocation to private players and worse, these coal blocks formed part of CIL’s identified coal areas.

The bench told Vahanvati, “You said very emphatically that these coal blocks were not part of CIL areas. Whereas it (the document) says these blocks are located in the leasehold areas of CIL. You said these coal blocks did not even fall in the neighbourhood of CIL coal mine areas. This (the document and the revelation) goes against the very statement made by you (the AG). You said the coal blocks were not part of the CIL areas.”

Vahanvati said these coal blocks were green fields where the CIL had either not started work or was not interested in extraction of coal given the lack of infrastructure. “The CIL was not committing suicide by giving away its profitable mines. The interest of CIL was never compromised. The CIL never complained. The state governments did not complain,” he said.

The bench said, “It could not have been allotted on the basis of ‘mian-biwi razi to kya karega kazi’ principle. If allottees, the governments, CIL, CMPDIL and everyone are happy, should the court not scrutinize it?”

It added, “It appears (from the documents) that all these coal blocks are part of the identified coal fields already with CIL or its subsidiaries. What you argued for one-and-a-half days is contradicted. If it is already with the CIL, then at best a sub-lease could have been given to the private players, not wholesale allocation.”

The AG said none of the petitioners – advocate M L Sharma and NGO ‘Common Cause’ – had made it an issue in their petitions. “It is now raised for the first time by the court. Nobody had suggested till date that the allocations could be illegal because of this reason. CIL had never raised this issue. I will meet the court’s query after taking instructions from CIL, which is headquartered in Kolkata, and CMPDIL which is in Ranchi.”

But the court appeared to have caught on the issue firmly and said answers to the identification and allocation of coal blocks was vital to the adjudication — whether the allocation process was within the known parameters of the policy to allow private participation in mining for captive consumption purposes.