Dilip Ray, a union minister in the erstwhile NDA government, was on Wednesday put on trial by a special court here in a coal scam case pertaining to alleged irregularities in the allocation of a Jharkhand coal block in 1999.
Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar frames charges of cheating, criminal conspiracy and criminal breach of trust against Ray, two senior officials of the Ministry of Coal (MoC) at that time, Pradip Kumar Banerjee and Nitya Nand Gautam, Castron Technologies Ltd (CTL), its director Mahendra Kumar Agarwalla and Castron Mining Ltd (CML), saying there was enough evidence to start the trial against the accused.
Ray was Minister of State for Coal in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. Banerjee was the then Additional Secretary in MoC and Gautam the Advisor (Projects) there.
The charges were framed after the accused pleaded not guilty and claimed trial.
The court fixed July 11 to begin the trial after the CBI submitted that Ray was a sitting MLA in Odisha and as per Supreme Court directions, the trial should be conducted on day-to-day basis.
The case pertains to allocation of Brahmadiha coal block in Giridih in Jharkhand to CTL in 1999.
The accused have been summoned for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating and criminal breach of trust under the Indian Penal Code and under relevant provisions of the Prevention of Corruption (PC) Act.
In its charge sheet, CBI had alleged that the name of former BJP Rajya Sabha member P K Agarwalla was not being recommended for prosecution as he has since expired.
In its charge sheet, CBI had said that CTL had applied in May 1998 to the MoC for allotment of Brahmadiha coal block and it was stated in the application that extracted coal shall be used by the firm for washery and power generation.
When the application came up for consideration, Coal India's views were sought, which in turn sought a report on the viability of coal block on various aspects from the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited (CMPDIL).
CBI had alleged that on the basis of CMPDIL's report of August 1998, the CIL conveyed to MoC that as the coal block was an abandoned mine area and was full of water, it could be dangerous to adjoining properties of Central Coal Fields (CCL) where coal mining activities were being undertaken through underground mining method.
The report also said that mining coal from the block would be against safety norms and the mining statutes, the agency said.
CBI alleged that when the report came to Gautam, he wrote to CIL seeking further clarification but CIL reiterated its earlier stand and also highlighted that the block was not in the list of identified captive coal blocks to be allocated.
On the basis of CIL's comment, Gautam proposed that it would not be possible to allot the coal mine to CTL, it said.
The agency said the file was sent to Ray's office on April 23, 1999 and on May 12, 1999, CTL submitted a fresh representation to Ray stating that their application may be considered expeditiously.
It claimed that on May 13, 1999 the file came to the then Coal Secretary from Ray's office with an endorsement that in light of representation received from CTL, the case may be re-examined.
CBI alleged that when the file again reached Gautam's desk, he made a note in which he "made a complete u-turn from his observations" given in the earlier note.
It alleged that on the basis of Gautam's note, the file came to Banerjee who approved it, after which the 14th screening committee recommended CTL for allocation of the coal block subject to relaxation of guidelines by MoC.
On the basis of the approval accorded by Ray, a letter of allotment of Brahmadiha coal block in favour of CTL was issued on September 1, 1999 by the MoC.
CBI has alleged in its charge sheet that despite strong objection raised by CIL and CMPDIL regarding allotment of the block, the screening committee and Ray proceeded ahead to allot the block to CTL.
It alleged that after allocation of the block, CTL started extracting coal illegally even without grant of any mine opening permission by the concerned authorities.
It said that as per a family settlement, all the shares of CTL stood transferred in favour of Mahender Kumar Agarwalla and his family members while the block so allocated stood transferred in favour of another firm CML of P K Agarwalla.
CBI also alleged that CML was also involved in illegal extraction of coal from the block without signing of a mining lease or obtaining mine opening permission.