Ambarish Mukherjee

New Delhi, May 13

MR S.K. Roongta, Director (Commercial), Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) , who had been asked to proceed on leave following allegations of irregularities in coal purchase transactions in the US spot market last year, is likely to be asked to extend his leave beyond May 15, the day his leave ends, highly-placed sources told Business Line.

"That is because the enquiry committee, which includes the former SAIL Chairman, Mr Arvind Pandey, and the former Coal India Ltd Chairman, Mr S.K. Choudhury, that is looking into it would not be able to complete its enquiry by the middle of this month. They would require some more time. And, since the Chairman was a signatory to the decision, his role too may be taken up for examination," sources said.

However, since SAIL is a Schedule A public sector company, any action based on the findings of the enquiry committee would require a clearance from the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, which is headed by the Prime Minister, officials pointed out.

The transactions that are being examined relate to spot purchases of coal made by SAIL between April and August 2004 in the US market. During this period, company sources said, the coal position in the four integrated plants of SAIL was very tight and SAIL's long-term supplier had invoked the force majeure clause because of roof collapse at its mines. "The plants were almost running out of stock and the international market situation was very tight. There was a situation when one of the four plants was running with just one day's stock in hand and there were production cuts. Offers in the spot market were valid only for few hours, thereby requiring prompt decisions," company sources said.

SAIL has a purchasing committee called Coal Empowered Committee, headed by Director (Commercial) and comprising Director (Finance), Director (Technical) and a Joint Secretary of the Steel Ministry. SAIL Chairman is the ex-officio member of the committee and final decisions are always taken after taking the Chairman into confidence who is a signatory to the decision, officials maintained.

The issue of spot purchases first came to the notice of the internal audit department of SAIL, which found that coal was available at prices lower than what had been contracted. A subsequent Government audit also confirmed it, sources said.

The issue was then referred to the Steel Ministry in December following which the Financial Advisor of the Ministry, Mr Arun Rath was asked to undertake a fact-finding exercise. Following the fact-finding report, the enquiry committee was set up and the committee is expected to submit its report next month.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 14, 2005)
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