A Delhi Court on Monday sentenced former secretary of Coal Ministry, HC Gupta to three years imprisonment and Ex Joint Secretary KS Kropha to two years imprisonment for conspiring to cheat the government for the allocation of Lohara East coal block to Grace Industries Limited (GIL) [CBI v M/s Grace Industries Limited].
Special Judge (PC Act) CBI Arun Bhardwaj also imposed a fine of ₹1 Lakh on HC Gupta, and ₹50,000 on Kropha.
GIL was fined ₹2 lakhs, and the third accused Mukesh Gupta was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment with a fine of ₹2 lakhs.
The three accused were convicted for for the offences of criminal conspiracy and cheating under the Indian Penal Code as well as criminal misconduct by a public servant under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
The judgment was delivered on 29 July, 2022 and arguments on the aspect of sentencing were heard on August 4, 2022.
While discussing the charge of conspiracy, it was noted that when the wrongly mentioned existing capacity of the plant was brought to the notice of HC Gupta, he merely initiated a complaint and marked Kropha.
“There were no ripples in spite of coming to know that M/s. Grace Industries Ltd had made false representations regarding kiln infrastructure and production capacity," the Court said.
It was further noted that in most cases, conspiracy was not supported by direct proof and was backed only by circumstantial evidence.
In this case, the same was satisfied, the Court held.
The issue had germinated when two parliamentarians, Prakash Javadekar and Hans Raj Ahir, along with one one political leader advocate Bhupendra Yadav made a complaint to the Central Vigilance Commissioner in March 2012 regarding corruption by Ministry of Coal officials by free allotment of coal during the period of 2006-2009.
As per the charge sheet, the accused in the years between 2005 – 2011 entered into a criminal conspiracy with the object of cheating the Ministry of Coal to procure allocation of “Lohara East Coal Block” in favour of GIL.
The charge sheet stipulated that this conspiracy was carried out by making false claims about the company’s net worth, equipment, existing capacity, status of procurement and installation of plant and machinery in the application form.
Another former director of GIL, Seema Gupta and the ex-director of Geology & Mining, Maharashtra Vishwas Sawakhande were acquitted.
While arguing on the point of sentence, the CBI submitted that a loss to the tune of ₹1.86 lakh crores was caused to the government exchequer due to this coal block allocation scam.
It was stated that as a result of the scam, the Supreme Court had to cancel the allocation of 214 coal blocks allocated to different companies.
Additionally, it was stated that the scam caused companies to stop coming forward to mine coal blocks and despite availability of ample coal, there was a shortage of supply and coal was being imported.
On the other hand, former coal secretary Gupta and Ex Joint Secretary Kropha’s counsel said that there was no allegation that the two ever sought or received any personal benefits from GIL or its director.
Further, in response to the CBI’s argument relating to the loss suffered by the country was due to the government’s refusal to agree to the proposal to introduce bidding for the purposes of allocating coal blocks.
Further, it was submitted that Gupta and Kropha were both senior citizens, who were not flight risks and were in a precarious financial situation.
Therefore, leniency while awarding sentence was urged.
Special Judge Bhardwaj took note of the fact that sentencing was the most important stage after conclusion of the trial in a criminal case where mitigating and aggravating circumstances were to be considered by the court.
With this principle in mind, the decision on sentence was pronounced.
Advocate Sanjay Kumar appeared for the CBI.
Advocates Akshay Ringe, KK Patra and Rahul Tyagi appeared for the convicts.
Advocate KK Patra also acted as the Amicus Curie.