New Delhi: A special court yesterday observed that Coal Secretary's role in coal block allocation cannot be strictly bracketed merely as an advisor to minister-in-charge and he is equally responsible for the administrative functioning of the ministry.
Special CBI judge Bharat Parashar noted this in his order on framing of charges against former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, ex-Coal Secretary H C Gupta and seven others in a coal scam case.
Dealing with Gupta's contentions that he cannot be held liable for coal block allocation as he was merely acting as an advisor to the minister-in-charge, that is the Minister of Coal (MoC), the court said a secretary cannot run away from his responsibility by saying so.
"However, from the overall facts and circumstances as discussed earlier, coupled with the nature of functioning of MOC and that of the Screening Committee, the role played by Secretary (Coal) cannot be strictly bracketed merely as that of an advisor to the Minister-in-charge," the judge said.
At the time of allocation of coal block to accused firm Vini Iron and Steel Udyog Ltd (VISUL), Gupta was the Coal Secretary while the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was holding the portfolio of Minister of Coal.
In its 84-page order, the court said, "The Secretary undoubtedly acts as an advisor to the Minister-in-charge but is also equally responsible for the administrative functioning of the Ministry."
"A secretary cannot run away from his responsibility by merely stating that being Secretary he either acts as an advisor to the Minister-in-charge or relies upon his subordinate officers," it said.
The judge said, "If that be so then the post of Secretary of a Ministry will clearly stand reduced to that of a post office, merely forwarding files from its Ministry to the Minister-in-charge and receiving it back from there without application of mind."
The court further said secretary of a ministry is always a senior bureaucrat and is assigned such a job at the fag end of his career.
"Clearly the Minister-in-charge for coal was to rely upon the recommendation of the Screening Committee and it is expected that the Screening Committee must have applied its mind properly before making the recommendation," it said.
Being the Coal secretary, Gupta was also the chairman of screening committee which had recommended VISUL for allocation of Jharkhand's Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block.
Besides Koda, Gupta and VISUL, the court ordered framing of charges against former Jharkhand Chief Secretary Ashok Kumar Basu, two public servants - Basant Kumar Bhattacharya and Bipin Bihari Singh - VISUL's director Vaibhav Tulsyan, Koda's alleged close aide Vijay Joshi and chartered accountant Navin Kumar Tulsyan.
The court has now fixed July 31 for formal framing of charges against the accused.
The case pertains to alleged irregularities in allocation of Rajhara North (Central and Eastern) coal block to Kolkata- based firm VISUL.