CBI under CVC’s mandate, Bengal govt’s consent not needed to probe coal scam

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that it is under the mandate of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to complete the investigation in offences pertaining to illegal mining, excavation and theft of coal in West Bengal.

The response from the CBI came on a plea filed by a key accused Anup Majee challenging Calcutta High Court order, which allowed a CBI probe into illegal coal mining case without the state’s consent.

The affidavit filed by CBI said: “The object of the accused persons in the FIR is to siphon off the depleting natural resources for their own gain running into hundreds of crores of rupees leading to a loss of revenue to the Centre.”

The wife of TMC leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s nephew Abhishek Banerjee, was also been questioned and served a notice.

The central probe agency argued the issue of lodging of the FIR by it despite withdrawal of general consent by state government had become infructuous after High Court declined to quash FIR and took cognisance of CBI probe.

The CBI said the case was unravelled on a complaint by the Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL) to the CVC.

“It is submitted that the Central Vigilance Commission, in furtherance of the said application by ECL, has passed an order dated February 22, 2021 under Section 8 of the CVC Act has caused an investigation to be continued by the Central Bureau of Investigation of the entire case, it being an offence spread over in multiple states”, said the affidavit argued by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and filed through advocate Kanu Agrawal.

The CBI has argued that coal bearing areas are spread across various states therefore, it is imperative that the larger conspiracy and the inter-state dimension be thoroughly probed by an agency having national jurisdiction.

Mehta on Wednesday contended before a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud that CBI was informed that an FIR has been registered in Uttar Pradesh citing large scale synchronised illegal operation is in place allegedly in connection with illegal extraction, theft, transport and sale of coal across various states in the country including West Bengal.

Since late November, the CBI has conducted searches at several places across West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and UP.

“It is clear that not only can the present Respondent conduct investigation in ‘Railway Areas’ without the prior consent of the state government but, such power in furtherance of the investigation, transcends to other areas beyond the ‘Railway Areas’, within the territorial jurisdiction of the state of West Bengal”, the affidavit added.

The affidavit contended that the top court had ruled once a court takes cognisance of a corruption case investigated by the CBI, it cannot be set aside in the absence of state government’s prior consent to the probe, unless it is shown that prejudice has been caused.

Majee approached the apex court after his plea was turned down by the High Court. The top court has scheduled the matter for further hearing next week.