NEW DELHI: The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has launched a wide-ranging probe into the energy sector, with daily visits to the coal ministry to scrutinise files on coal blocks, and has issued notices to two former oil ministry officials on procedural issues.
The CBI is studying the allotment of coal blocks, eligibility of companies that were awarded the mines, and whether the coal is being used for captive purposes, or being illegally sold in the open market, government officials said.
“While studying the files, if the CBI finds any other matter that looks irregular or suspicious, it can investigate further in that direction also,” said a government official, who did not want to be identified as the matter is sensitive.
Coal ministry officials said regular visits of CBI officials had affected routine work of their junior staff, which is assisting the agency in the lengthy and time-consuming process of obtaining various records. However, decision-making has not been affected as officials in key positions are not directly interacting with the agency.
One official said most officials currently in the ministry were not involved in the allocation of blocks, which were given to companies by the previous government.
In the oil ministry, however, there is a deeper sense of discomfort as the CBI has issued notices to at least four bureaucrats, including two IAS officers who have served in the ministry in the past. The notices are for violation of certain rules in matters that officials say are relatively small.
The issues involve sharing policymaking matters with a state firm, allowing a gas customer to shift his plant to a new location, and retail gas supply.
An IAS officer, who has been issued a show-cause notice, said: “We have taken decisions involving billions of dollars, but it is sad that we are being probed for matters like a small error in the file for shifting of an office.”
Government officials said the decision was taken in good faith. The matter pertains to a temporary shifting of the DGH office from KG Marg to Noida, when VK Sibal was the director-general of hydrocarbons, officials said. Sibal is already facing a CBI investigation.
Officials said there was a growing fear about the CBI among government servants, particularly in the oil ministry. Officials often advise colleagues to raise objections on files to avoid controversial decisions. “CBI and CVC are haunting all of us. We could be arrested for even innocent mistakes. The PM says no one will be harassed for bonafide errors. But who will come forward to protect us,” said an official at Shastri Bhawan, where several ministries are located.
The prime minister had reassured bureaucrats on Civil Services Day on April 22 saying: “It is our government’s commitment to put in place a system and create an environment in which our civil servants are encouraged to be decisive, and no one is harassed for bonafide mistakes of errors of judgment. We stand committed to protecting honest and well-meaning civil servants …”