New Delhi: A Delhi court on Wednesday sentenced former coal secretary H C Gupta to three-year imprisonment in a coal block allocation scam which happened during the previous UPA regime at the Centre, saying such "white collar crimes were more dangerous to society" than ordinary offences.
Special Judge Bharat Parashar also awarded similar punishment to two other bureaucrats -- K S Kropha and K C Samria -- sentencing them to three-year jail term. All the three government servants were also fined Rs 50,000 each.
Samria's lawyer had earlier informed the court that he has been suspended after he was convicted and taken into custody on November 30.
Awarding the punishment to the three bureaucrats, the court said: "Such white collar crimes are in fact more dangerous to the society than ordinary crimes, firstly, because the financial losses are much higher, and, secondly because of the damages inflicted on public morale.
"The average loss from ordinary crimes such as burglaries, robberies and larcenies etc. may run into few thousand rupees only but the loss which the 'white collar crimes' may run not only in lakhs but in crores of rupees."
The government servants were later granted statutory bail to file appeals against the judgement before the superior court as the jail term was three years. The court, however, said that none of them deserves to be given the benefit of probation.
It sentenced other convicted persons Vikash Patni, MD of Vikash Metals and Power Limited (VMPL), and its authorised signatory Anand Mallick to four years in jail, saying it was due to "unscrupulous businessmen and industrialists" that even after 71 years of independence the country was "lagging" behind in industrial and infrastructure development.
The court imposed a fine of Rs 25 lakh on Patni and Rs 2 lakh on Mallick. They were not granted bail. A fine of Rs 1 lakh was imposed on the company.
In its order on sentence, the court has disagreed with the convicted businessmen's claim that since no coal was extracted, there was no loss and said that non-availability of sufficient raw material has in fact resulted in the lack of infrastructural and industrial development of the country.
"Had coal been allocated to a deserving applicant company who would have proceeded ahead to extract coal and to also establish its end use project achieving the final ultimate capacity then it would have certainly added to the infrastructural and industrial development of the country.
"It will be suffice to state that non-extraction of coal and non-establishing of the end use project in itself has caused huge loss to the nation which is difficult to be computable in monetary term," the court said in its 33-page order.
The case pertains to irregularities in the allocation of Moira and Madhujore (North and South) coal blocks in West Bengal to VMPL. In September 2012, the CBI registered an FIR in the case.
The CBI had sought a maximum of seven years imprisonment for the five convicted persons and imposition of heavy fine on the private firm.
The offences for which they had been convicted entail a minimum punishment of one year in jail, going up to a maximum of seven years.
The court had on November 30 convicted Gupta, former joint secretary in Ministry of Coal, Kropha, and the then director (CA-I) in the ministry Samria.
It had also convicted the firm, Patni and Mallick.
Gupta, who was the Coal Secretary from December 31, 2005 to November 2008, has already been convicted before this in two other cases of coal block allocation in which he had been sentenced to jail for two and three years respectively. He is out on bail in both the cases.
Kropha retired in December 2017 as the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya. He has also been convicted and sentenced to two years in another coal block allocation scam and has been on bail.
Samria then held the rank of Director in the Ministry of coal and is Joint Secretary in Ministry of Minority Affairs. He has already been convicted and sentenced to two years jail term in another case and was out on bail.
All the convicted persons were taken into judicial custody after pronouncement of the order on the direction of the court.
All have been held guilty for the offences under Prevention of Corruption Act and IPC, including cheating, criminal conspiracy and criminal misconduct.
Gupta has been accused in 12 cases of alleged irregularities in coal block allocation scam, prosecutors had said.
The CBI has filed charge sheets in connection with alleged irregularities in 40 cases of coal block allocations during the UPA-1 and UPA-2 regime.
On July 25, 2014, the Supreme Court had approved appointment of Additional Sessions Judge Parashar as special judge to exclusively deal with all coal scam cases.
Till now the special court has decided six such cases.
In the present case, the court had on August 19, 2016 framed charges, including cheating and criminal conspiracy against Gupta, the two public servants, the firm and its two officials. They all had pleaded not guilty and claimed trial. All the accused were out on bail.
The other two coal scam cases in which Gupta was earlier convicted related to Kamal Sponge Steel and Power Ltd (KSSPL) and Vini Iron and Steel Udyog Ltd(VISUL). Kropha and Samria were also convicted in KSSPL case.