Congress defends Manmohan Singh, says allocation above board

Congress defends Manmohan Singh, says allocation above board

The Congress on Wednesday strongly defended former prime minister Manmohan Singh following his being summoned in a coal block-allocation case and expressed confidence that the process of "allocating 15 percent share" to Hindalco will be found to be above board.

Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, however, said Manmohan Singh was paying for the "sins" of the Congress party.

Within hours of a special court here on Wednesday summoning Manmohan Singh over allocation of coal blocks in Odisha, the Congress held a special media briefing and outlined the steps taken by Manmohan Singh to bring transparency in coal block allocations during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's tenure.

Industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary P.C. Parakh were also summoned by the court in the allocation concerning Talabira II block.

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said Manmohan Singh's integrity, fairness and impartiality was "unquestionable" and was recognised both within and outside the country.

He also said the decision to allocate the block to Hindalco, when Manmohan Singh also held the coal portfolio, was based on recommendation of the Odisha government and then coal secretary P.C. Parakh.

"The CBI has found the entire allocation process above board and transparent," Surjewala said. "We are confident that examination of full facts (will) unequivocally establish fairness and transparency in which 15 percent share was allotted to Hindalco."
Manmohan Singh, who has earlier given his statement to the CBI, on Wednesday said he was "upset" by the court summons but was "sure truth will prevail".

"Of course, I am upset but this is part of life. I have respect for the judicial process. I have stated my position before the CBI. I have issued statements also justifying what we did," he told reporters.

Surjewala accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of "poor attempt" to politicise the judicial process to divert attention of the people from the "black" bill on land acquisition.

Surjewala said coal block allocations were made by a screening committee from 1993 till 2005 when Manmohan Singh initiated a change to bring in transparency and the committee started accepting applications on the basis of advertisement.

Surjewala said Manmohan Singh called a meeting in July 2005 of states with high reserves of coal and sought to change the process of allocation from steering committee to auction. "It was opposed by the BJP governments," he said.

He said letters were written by the then BJP governments in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as also by the BJD government in Odisha and Left Front government in West Bengal against changing the process of allocation.

"Despite this, Manmohan Singh and the UPA persuaded (them) through broad process of consultation and it fructified in what is now known as the process of coal allocation through competitive bidding," Surjewala said.

He said the initiative for competitive bidding was taken in February 2012.
Surjewala also said Hindalco wrote to Manmohan Singh in May 2005 for allocation of Talabira blocks.

He said Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik wrote a letter to the prime minister in August 2005 conveying that the block should be allocated to Hindalco.

He said the coal ministry took a decision to allocate only 15 percent share in Talabira block to Hindalco while the remaining share was allocated to two other entities.

"The process was transparent. The decision was taken keeping in view the stance of the Odisha government," he said.

Answering queries, Surjewala said Manmohan Singh respected the judicial process and will take part in it. "We are confident that the decision will be found to be above board."

Manmohan Singh was questioned in January in connection with the allocation of Talabira II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Hindalco in 2005 when he also held the coal portfolio.

Javadekar said the Congress was responsible for bringing former prime minister "to this threshold". "It is a Congress scam and because of the Congress's sin, Manmohan ji, the economist (former) prime minister, has to face this," Javadekar told reporters.

Congress leader Kapil Sibal said he was "saddened" at Manmohan Singh being summoned by a court in the coal block-allocation case.

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