The mystery of missing files on coal block allocations, over which the government was put on the mat by the Opposition in Parliament during this week, is bound to unravel soon. This is because the responsibility of the disappearance could soon be traced to the junior officers in charge of receiving applications, initiating files and safekeeping them after decision-making by the seniors.
Officials privy to the matter say that files on allocation of coal blocks turn out to be huge consisting of applications, documents about the ownership structure, technical and financial capabilities of the applicant firms, bank guarantees, state governments’ recommendations and a host of other records. So it is virtually impossible to misplace or transport close to 200 such files (which are reported to be missing) without the knowledge of these junior officers known as ‘dealing hands’, generally section officers. In case of sensitive matters like natural resources (like coal), under secretaries or directors may be responsible for safekeeping of files. So it is clearly impossible that files can go missing, without the knowledge of at least a few officers.
According to sources, it might not even require an investigating agency to find out from whom the files went missing as the coal ministry had been using an electronic file tracking system implemented by National Informatics Centre (NIC) for a long time. It shows where a file was left at a particular point in time, although it has no capability to store contents of the file, except a small excerpt.
Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal promised on Tuesday that all efforts will be made to trace the missing files relating to the allocation of coal blocks dating back to 2004 and on Thursday, parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath assured the Opposition that Prime minister would intervene in the discussion on the matter, as and when it happens.
“The question before an investigating agency may be whether the files are missing or have been destroyed. Missing so many large files does not seem unintentional,” said a government official, asking not to be identified. Lawyers said that custodians of missing files may face disciplinary action either for causing disappearance of evidence or for negligence. Bureaucrats who headed the ministry are covered by the scope of executive accountability and may have to face probe for any alleged complicity. The minister in charge, of course, is accountable only to Parliament, and may