New Delhi, Dec 16 (IANS) A special court hearing the coal block case allegedly involving industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and others here Tuesday asked the CBI to record the statement of former prime minister Manmohan Singh who was then also holding the coal ministry portfolio.
Special Judge Bharat Parashar asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to record Manmohan Singh’s statement.
“I have ordered further investigation. I desire that statement of then coal minister (Manmohan Singh) be recorded beside other officials,” the judge said.
An aide of Manmohan Singh IANS spoke to did not comment on the court directive. “There is nothing new in this. We have nothing to say. We have yet to receive the order,” the aide said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party attacked the Congress following the court directive while the Congress said that Manmohan Singh had made his position clear on the issue and had offered further assistance if needed.
The court observed that a concerted effort was being made to manipulate the entire government machinery so as to protect the interest of Hindalco and refused to accept a closure report filed in the case related to the allocation of Talabira II and III coal blocks in Odisha to the firm in 2005.
The court also ordered the CBI to conduct further investigation in the case as it posted the matter for Jan 27.
“…the entire proceedings which took place in the ministry of coal or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with regard to allocation of Talabira-II coal block to Hindalco, I am of the considered opinion that before the matter is examined further as to what offence, if any, stands committed, it will be appropriate that the then minister of coal be first examined,” it said.
It also said some officers who were working in the PMO then “and were concerned in one respect or the other with the allocation process in question” were either not examined or were not properly examined.
These included B.V.R. Subramanyam, then private secretary to the prime minister, who has not been examined. T.K.A. Nair, who was working as the principal secretary, PMO, has been examined through a questionnaire. He refused to answer some of the questions, saying that he was not in a frame of mind to answer further.
“Thus, it will be appropriate if the investigating officer (IO) examine Subramanyam and re-examine Nair,” the court ordered.
The court said that the IO shall also mention the present status of all the public servants involved in the entire allocation process.
The CBI had booked Birla, former coal secretary P.C. Parakh, and others on charges of criminal conspiracy and corruption in the coal blocks’ allocation in October 2013.
But the central investigating agency filed a closure report in the case Aug 28, saying: “The evidence collected during investigations did not substantiate the allegations levelled against the people named in the FIR.”
The court also sought clarifications from the CBI whether an element of criminality was involved in allocating the coal blocks to the Birla-promoted Hindalco firm.
The court also took into account Special Public Prosecutor R.S. Cheema’s argument that he does not agree with the closure report’s conclusion that no criminal offence has been committed.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said that the party had consistently raised the coal allocation controversy and maintained that the buck stops with the then prime minister.
“The Congress is totally exposed today. Manmohan Singh was a shadow prime minister. Will his statement expose the real culprits,” he asked.
Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha however said it was Manmohan Singh who recommended auctions for coal block allocations to make the process more transparent, and had made a very categorical statement that the recommendation followed the backing of Naveen Patnaik-headed Odisha government.
He said Manmohan Singh had also said that no arbitrary decision was taken and “were CBI to ask for further information, he would have no objection”.