coalgateA special court on Monday sentenced Jharkhand Ispat Pvt Ltd’s (JIPL) directors RC Rungta and RS Rungta to four years in rigorous imprisonment in the coal block allocation scam that rocked the UPA-II dispensation.

Awarding the first sentence in the coal block allocation cases, the court also imposed a fine of Rs 25 lakh on JIPL, the offending firm, and Rs. 5 lakh on both the directors.

The special court had on March 28 held JIPL guilty of cheating the government to illegally bag a mining block in the state. The arguments on their sentencing had taken place on March 31, after which it had reserved its order on sentence.

While arguing before the court, Rungtas’ counsel had pleaded that his clients deserved leniency because the criminal charges against them were of an economic nature, and not of any heinous offence.

“We have already got the punishment,” added the counsel, saying that JIPL had not been able to extract coal from the mine and had suffered a loss “over Rs. 200 crore.”

In March, while convicting the company and its directors guilty of conspiracy and cheating, special judge Bharat Parashar said “the intention to defraud on the part of accused persons is writ large on the face of record”.

The sentencing should come as a slight relief for the Rungtas as the maximum punishment for cheating in India could go up to seven years of imprisonment.

The coal scam that rocked the Manmohan Singh government came to light when audit watchdog CAG (comptroller and auditor general) flagged irregularities in allocation of coal blocks from 2004 onwards. The estimated loss to the exchequer initially pegged at Rs 10 lakh crore was later whittled down to Rs 1.86 lakh crore.

The Rungtas were convicted in a case pertaining to the allocation of Jharkhand’s North Dhadu coal block to JIPL and other companies. The prosecution proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, the court said, that the company and its directors made false claims regarding the land in their possession and the production capacity of JIPL.

“It is crystal clear that the actions of the accused persons in making all such false claims knowing them to be false were actuated with an intention to deceive MOC (ministry of coal) and thereby Government of India,” the court had said in its 132-page judgment.

The court added that the Rungtas had taken contradictory defences not just to each other and their company, but at times also against their own admitted evidence in an effort to “wriggle out” of the charges against them.

The court said, however, that no charges of forgery were made out against the Rungtas themselves. Calling the coal block allocation letter received by JIPL from the government a “valuable security”, the court said charges of cheating were made out as the convicts had committed a false act with the knowledge that it would result in the “delivery of a valuable security”.

Regarding the ministry, the court had observed that the accused persons’ defence that “MOC officers ought to have taken all necessary precautions as could have been taken by them so that the important nationalized natural resources of the country i.e. coal, are not usurped by any unscrupulous person” was not “completely without force”. The court added that this, however, did not absolve the company and its directors of cheating and conspiracy.

On March 21 last year, the court framed charges of conspiracy, forgery and cheating against the accused. All the accused pleaded not guilty and denied the allegations levelled against them by the CBI.

In December last year, the court dismissed RS Rungta’s plea to summon former prime minister Manmohan Singh and ex-minister of state for coal Dasari Narayan Rao as defence witnesses.

In its charge sheet, the CBI had alleged that JIPL “grossly misrepresented” facts before the ministries of steel and coal to inflate their claim. JIPL and three other firms – Electro Steel Casting Ltd, Adhunik Alloys and Power Ltd and Pawanjay Steel and Power Ltd – were allocated the coal block by the 27th and 30th screening committees, it added.

The CBI charged the government’s screening committee with making no attempt to verify the claims made by the firms and said the steel ministry hadn’t developed any method to assess the competency of the companies. The coal ministry’s records related to the case were stated to be missing, it had said.

Read full article: Hindustan Times