IN AUGUST last year, former coal secretary Harish Chandra Gupta who was in jail in corruption cases related to allocation of coal blocks, became almost a hero when the IAS Association and senior IAS officers openly vouched for his honesty, further adding that if Gupta could go to jail, most of the other IAS should also be behind bars. His IAS batch mate of 1971 batch and former chief election commissioner Dr SY Quraishi went a step further, terming Gupta as one of the most honest officers “who lived like a sadhu”. On Tuesday morning, Gupta was…granted bail by a special court in New Delhi. Gupta along with six others — also granted bail — were arrested in a case related to alleged irregularities in allocation of a coal block in Chhattisgarh to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd. The CBI has been investigating the case. All seven accused including the former IAS secured bail on a personal bond of Rs 1 lakh.
In fact, both serving and retired IAS officers came out openly to bat for Gupta when the latter refused to engage a lawyer, citing that he could not afford to have a good lawyer. Most conceded that Gupta made a mistake as he was the coal secretary during the period of the coal scam, but everyone said, those were "honest mistakes" and the officers must not be punished for such mistakes. Ashok Khemka, a serving IAS, however termed Gupta's move to not engaging a lawyer a “clever melodrama”, arguing that the monthly pension of a retired Government of India secretary has been Rs 1,12,500 since Jan-2016 i.e. the effective date of implementation of the 7th Central Pay Commission recommendations.
Gupta was Union coal secretary for about three years — between January 2006 and November 2008 — the period when coal blocks were allocated without auction. The scam is informally called as the coalgate.
Gupta in an earlier innings (September 1987 to July 1989) also served as director in the ministry of coal. Later, he became union joint secretary in petroleum and natural gas ministry (1989-92), in the chemical and fertilizer ministry (2001-2002). He also served as additional secretary and special secretary in the ministry of defence.
After his retirement as secretary, he was appointed as a Member in the Competition Commission of India, but he resigned in 2013, as he was to be questioned by the CBI on the coal case.
A post-graduate in physics and mathematics, he originally hails from Uttar Pradesh and was allotted the home cadre. He has working knowledge of Sanskrit language.