"The CBI has asked for 157 documents of companies which had applied prior to June 2004 but have not been allocated coal blocks, apart from few other files and documents," Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said in a statement in the Rajya Sabha.
"Since some documents could not be located in the coal ministry, I have constituted an inter-ministerial committee under the chairmanship of additional secretary (coal) on July 11 to look into the matter," he said.
"I would like to assure the house that my ministry would leave no stone unturned in tracing and providing the documents sought by the CBI," he added, amidst sloganeering by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members.
Jaiswal rejected allegations that files related to a family that was close to him were among the missing documents. "If these allegations are proven right, I am ready for any punishment," he asserted.
His assurance could not pacify the BJP, which said it was an effort "to save the prime minister", who held the coal portfolio during the period under probe.
During the period under review, a total of 204 coal blocks were allocated to state-run and private companies - 132 by the screening committee and 72 by the coal ministry. Out of that, licences for 40 blocks were cancelled.
A preliminary inquiry to examine the irregularities in allocation of coal blocks during 2006-09 was registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on reference of the Central Vigilance Committee in June 2012.
In the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj alleged that the now untraceable documents carried names of Congress leaders.
"The prime minister should come in the house and clarify on the missing files. These files contain the names of Congress leaders involved and the decisions taken in the allocation of coal blocks," she said.
In the Rajya Sabha, her counterpart Arun Jaitley termed it as destruction of evidence in a case monitored by the Supreme Court and wondered why no FIR was lodged.
"Files don't disappear, they are made to disappear. These files were the evidence of crime and now there is a possibility of culprits escaping."
"This is a case of destruction of evidence of a case monitored by the Supreme Court. I want to know from the minister has any FIR been filed in the matter," asked Jaitley.
The BJP targeted the Congress saying Jaiswal's statement about files prior to 2004 missing is misleading as the CBI had told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that files between 2006-07 were missing.
"Congress stands exposed today and this is yet another effort to save the prime minister, who was the coal minister during the period," BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar told reporters here.
Stating his party should not be blamed for disrupting the houses, Javadekar did not guarantee the BJP will let the house function on Thursday.
The Left too questioned the government on the issue.
Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Sitaram Yechury said: "We have asked the prime minister to make a statement as he was the (then) coal minister."
"Why is government not transparent in the matter... are they protecting anyone," he added.
--IANS (Posted on 20-08-2013)