ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Lessons from ‘Coalgate’

The conviction of a retired senior civil servant raises important questions about law enforcement in India.

The 23 May decision of Judge Bharat Parashar to sentence former coal ministry secretary Harish Chandra Gupta to two years’ imprisonment in a case relating to illegal allotment of a coal-bearing area to a private firm, has sent shock waves through the bureaucracy. Serving and former members of the elite Indian Administrative Service (IAS) have sharply attacked the decision of the special court instituted to try criminal cases initiated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). These bureaucrats have claimed that Gupta is scrupulously honest and is being victimised for following faulty government policies relating to allotment of coal “blocks” or acreages.

This episode has highlighted two significant aspects about how the law is enforced in the country. The first is the manner in which an ambiguity in a legal provision offers scope for misuse of discretionary powers. The second is the way in which criminal proceedings have taken place in what is popularly called “Coalgate,” or the scandal relating to allotments of 214 coal blocks to private firms from 1993 declared illegal by the Supreme Court in August 2014. The crucial question thrown up is why the judiciary has not yet found the political masters of civil servants guilty of fleecing the exchequer and worthy of incarceration. Nor, it seems, have investigative agencies like the CBI displayed similar zeal in proceeding against politicians, as they have in the cases of bureaucrats and businesspersons who work in concert with them.

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Updated On : 27th Aug, 2017
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