New Delhi: A Delhi court has sentenced three people including former coal secretary HC Gupta to three years’ imprisonment for irregularities in the allotment of coal blocks in Bengal to a private firm. While two others have been awarded a sentence of four years, the looming question is whether Gupta has become a fall-guy in his pursuit to save the then coal minister and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. 

Gupta has not only been awarded a sentence of three years but also fined Rs 50,000 for the corruption that now stands proven. Retired director of the ministry KC Samria too has been given the same sentence and got fined the same amount as that of HC Gupta. Apart from them, the promoter of Vikas Metals and Power Ltd, Vikas Patani, has also been found guilty in this scam that shook the political system back in UPA -2, led by the Congress party. Both him and his associate Anand Malik will be spending 4 years each behind the bar for their involvement in the scam. 

Arguing that it is a 'serious issue' that involves the waste of Rs 1,86,000 crore, the CBI sought a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment for the five convicted people and an imposition of an unusually heavy fine on the private firms involved. 

The case pertains to irregularities while allocating Moira and Madhujore (north and south) coal blocks in West Bengal to Vikas Metals and Power Ltd (VMPL). The CBI registered an FIR in the case on September 2012. Gupta was the coal secretary from December 31, 2005, to November 2008.

Now, why is this conviction interesting? The case against Gupta had serious charges including cheating, and criminal conspiracy against him, to which he pleaded not guilty. But was he saving Dr Manmohan Singh, the former PM who was often referred to as ‘Mr Clean’? By virtue of having the coal ministry under him, Singh could not evade the responsibility of such a mammoth scam taking place right under his nose. Investigators wanted Gupta, the key man to become an approver, which would enable them to use him as a witness against the coal minister – Singh himself. But he chose to fight the case, in a way absolving Mr Clean, to enjoy his image of being a transparent administrator.

As Gupta goes to jail, many wonder whether he deliberately chose to become the fall-guy and if yes, why?