Manmohan Singh to be examined in Coal Blocks allocation case

Manmohan Singh to be examined in Coal Blocks allocation case

CBI was today directed by a trial court to examine former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the case of Talabira II coal block allocation to Hindalco when he was also Coal Minister in 2005.

Sending the matter back to CBI for further investigation after it had filed a closure report in the case, Special Judge Bharat Parashar said it would be "appropriate" that the then Coal Minister be "first examined" regarding various aspects of the matter.

"....I am of the considered opinion that before the matter is examined further as to what offence, if any, stands committed or by whom the same has been committed, it will be appropriate that the then Minister of Coal (Manmohan Singh) be first examined qua various aspects of the matter and also in light of the observations made by this court in the present order," the judge said.

Besides Manmohan Singh, the court also said that some top officers, who were working in Prime Minister's Office (PMO) at that time and were concerned with the process of allocation of coal block to HINDALCO, were "either not examined or were not properly examined" by the agency.

"B V R Subramanyam, who was PS to the Prime Minister, has not been examined and T K A Nair, who was working as Principal Secretary in the PMO, though, has been examined by way of a questionnaire but towards the end he refused to answer some of the questions expressing his inability that he was not in a frame of mind of answering further questions," it said.

"Thus, it will be appropriate if the IO (investigating officer) examines B V R Subramanyam and re-examines T K A Nair," the judge said in his 50-page order and fixed the case for filing of progress report of further probe on January 27.

The case pertains to allocation of Talabira II coal block in Orissa to M/s HINDALCO. The CBI had earlier lodged an FIR against Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh, M/s HINDALCO Industries Ltd and other unknown persons and officials for the offence under section 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

The CBI, however, had later filed a closure report in the case on August 27 this year opining that no criminal offence was committed by any of the persons involved in the entire process of allocation of Talabira-II coal block to HINDALCO.

The court, in its detailed order, observed that documents recovered during the probe coupled with the fact that Birla had met Manmohan Singh, Parakh and others and had also written two letters to then Prime Minister showed that a "concerted effort" was being made to "manipulate" the entire system.

"Thus if in the light of the aforesaid documents recovered, the subsequent meetings which Kumar Mangalam Birla had initially with the Prime Minister and thereafter with P C Parakh or with Dasari Narayan Rao (the then Minister of State for Coal and Mines) are seen coupled with the two letters dated May 7, 2005 and June 17, 2005 written by him to the Prime Minister requesting for allocation of Talabira-II coal block, then it is found that a concerted effort was being made to manipulate the entire Government machinery so as to protect the interest of M/s HINDALCO," the court said.

It, however, clarified that there cannot be any objection if the head of a leading industrial house met the Prime Minister or other top officials "but when such meetings are seen in the over all facts and circumstances as mentioned above coupled with the follow up action which resulted at the administrative level in the government then it certainly raises eye brows."

It also said that in the final report submitted by CBI, it was stated that even the reasons mentioned by Birla to Parakh for accommodating HINDALCO in allotment of Talabira-II coal block which were reproduced by Parakh in one of his notes in August 2005, were "found to be not correct".

While directing CBI to question Manmohan Singh and others, the court observed that members of the screening committee and Ministry of Coal, including the ministers heading it, were acting as trustees of important nationalised natural resources of the country.

"In a democratic society, it is incumbent on such persons having dominion over the nationalised natural resources of the country to ensure that the said resources are handled and distributed in an objective and transparent manner with equal opportunities to one and all.

With the aforesaid directions, I am accordingly sending the matter back to CBI for further investigation," the judge said.

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