Ex-NDA minister Dilip Ray gets 3-year jail in coal case

A Special CBI court on Monday sentenced former union minister of state for coal, Dilip Ray, 66, to three years for illegally allocating, in 1999, a Jharkhand coal block to a private company Castron Technologies Ltd (CTL).

The special CBI judge, Bharat Parashar, observed that the Brahmadiha coal block in Giridih, Jharkhand was allocated to Castron Technologies Ltd in 1999 by Dilip Ray, the then minister of state (Mos) for coal despite the fact that he was part of a “caretaker” government, which should not have taken a major policy decision.

Ray was part of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government that was acting as a caretaker government when this particular allocation was approved by Ray.

Besides Ray, two former senior officials of the coal ministry, Pradip Kumar Banerjee and Nitya Nand Gautam, as well as Mahendra Aggarwalla of Castron Technologies Ltd have also been sentenced to three-year jail terms and fined ₹10 lakh each. The judge also imposed fines of ₹60 lakh on Castron Technologies Ltd (CTL) and ₹10 lakh on Castron Mining Ltd (CML).

The accused were convicted on October 6 for criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, cheating and prevention of corruption act.

In his conviction judgment on October 6, Parashar said: “Undoubtedly, the approval of said guidelines for allotment of captive coal blocks for opencast mining and underground mining amounts to taking a major policy decision and which Dilip Ray as part of a Caretaker government should not have taken. The question which however requires examination is as to whether the impugned decision was necessary for day to day administration or it could have waited till the new elected government was formed”.

Ray’s lawyer Manu Sharma said: “We are going to challenge this particular assertion about caretaker government because CBI never brought up this charge during investigation or trial.”

Former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), V S Sampath said: “There is nothing like a caretaker government. A government is a government”. Still, the Election Commission also clarified in 2018 that a caretaker government in states should desist from taking any major policy decisions.

Advocate Vijay Aggarwal, who has represented various accused in coal scam cases, said: “I am very surprised at conviction under section 409 of the IPC (criminal breach of trust by a public servant) as the same court in the past has acquitted people charged under 409 IPC in view of three-judge bench judgment of Supreme Court.” His reference to the SC’s three-judge ruling is about a 1999 order in Common Cause Vs Union of India matter in which the apex court said that the power of a minister to allot a property due to discretionary powers over dealing with a particular good is not covered by criminal breach of trust.

Aggarwal added that the sentence was not harsh.

Parashar, while sentencing Ray and others, observed on Monday that “the loss from ordinary crimes such as burglaries, robberies and larcenies etc. may run into few thousand rupees only but the loss from white collar crimes may run not only in lacs but in crores of rupees”.

“Though on the face of it, the arguments of learned counsels for the convict(ed) companies that no loss was caused to anyone in the present matter since almost the entire amount of extracted coal was surrendered back to the government while surrendering back the lease deed, seems to be attractive. However, non-availability of sufficient raw material such as coal has in fact resulted in the lack of infrastructural/industrial development of the country. Had coal block been allocated to a deserving applicant company after following the due process of law and the company would have proceeded to extract coal so as to use it captively in its end use project then it would have certainly added to the infrastructural/industrial development of the country,” the order said.

“…suffice to state that arbitrary allocation of coal blocks as has been seen in the present matter to unscrupulous persons who never intended to establish any end use project in itself has caused huge loss to the nation which is difficult to be computable in monetary terms,” Parashar observed.

The case pertains to allocation of 105.153 hectares (ha) of an abandoned coal mining area in Jharkhand’s Giridih district in favour of Castron Technologies Limited by the 14th screening committee of the Union coal ministry in 1999.

It is different from the investigative agency’s probe into improper allocation of captive coal blocks between 2004 and 2009 — a scandal that roiled the United Progressive Alliance headed by Manmohan Singh.

Ray, a hotelier, was one of the founding members of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the 1990s. The BJD was part of the short-lived Vajpayee government that was in power for 13 months. He left the BJD in 2002 (he was actually expelled) but returned to the Rajya Sabha (to which he had been elected in 1996) as an independent with the support of some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers from Odisha.

He joined the Congress in 2004, and returned to the BJP in 2009, actually winning the Rourkela assembly election on the party’s ticket in 2014. By then, however, the CBI case against him had been registered at the instance of the Supreme Court. In 2017, charges were framed against him and in 2018, he quit the BJP and also politics.

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