Manmohan Singh: The “you-know-who” of Coalgate

If anyone is guilty of irresponsibility and breach of public trust in the coal block misallocations, it is the Prime Minister and his office.

Just a day after the FIRs were filed against former coal secretary PC Parekh and industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla for alleged irregularities and criminal conspiracy in the allocation of the two blocks, Parekh came up with the big allegation, and an old one, that it was Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who decided the allocation of two coal blocks in Odisha in 2005.

“I don’t think this is any serious issue at all. There is no case in what CBI is trying to make out. It was a very fair and correct decision which we took… I made a proposal and the prime minister took a decision,” he said.

Parekh was named in the 14th FIR filed by the CBI in the case along with Chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla, in connection with the allocation of coal blocks. The CBI has alleged that the company’s belonging to Birla’s conglomerate was wrongfully allocated the Talabira II coal block in Jasukuda district of Orissa in 2005.

If there was indeed a conspiracy, he thundered, then the prime minister, who headed the coal ministry at that time, was equally involved.

“If the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) sees a conspiracy, who is behind the conspiracy? Kumar Manglam BIrla who made a representation, I who made a recommendation, or prime minister who took the decision?” he said.

“I don’t know why the CBI thinks Birla and I are in a conspiracy, but the person who took a decision is not a part of (the) conspiracy. If a conspiracy is there, everyone is part of the conspiracy. If we are accused, PM is as much a part of the conspiracy,” Parekh told TimesNow.

It is interesting to note that in 2004, the geologist-turned IAS officer Parekh had suggested that coal blocks be distributed through a competitive bidding process for better transparency. The CAG report in August last year which estimated the loss to the exchequer from the coal block allocations at Rs 1.86 lakh crore had lauded Parakh’s note on competitive bidding for auctioning coal blocks.

Parekh also pointed out that that he had differences with the Prime Minister over policy matters. “I had differences with many of the policy matters with them (PM & MoS Coal),” he said, without elaborating on the details.

After registering the fresh FIR with a CBI court, agency teams carried out coordinated searches at nearly six locations in Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and Bhubaneshwar which included offices of Hindalco and residence of Parekh in Sikandarabad, Hyderabad.

Birla has been named since the decision to accommodate Hindalco in the coal block, meant for PSUs only, was taken after he had a meeting with Parekh in the latter half of 2005.

The USD 40 billion (Rs.2.45 lakh crore) conglomerate has denied receiving any FIR and said the allegations against Birla were “preposterous”.

Parakh said there were two applicants for the two coal blocks, the first was Hindalco and the second was Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC).

Since NLC was a state-owned company, the Screening Committee under the Coal Ministry decided to make the allocation to it.

“At that point of time, Mr.Birla made a presentation to the Prime Minister, saying since his company was the first applicant for the coal block and was equally eligible and competent for allocation….therefore the decision should be reconsidered,” Parakh said.

He said Birla had also met him with a similar representation. “Thereafter, I made a proposal that along with NLC, we must also include Hindalco in this block. So, both of them were advised to form a joint venture company.”

The complications of the case, thus, increase multifold. Not only India Inc. is unhappy over the naming of Birla, it is also unhappy over the way the government is messing up with the case to save PM.

The intervention and interest of PMO in CBI’s work is another matter which raises eyebrows. Why is it doing so if it has “nothing to hide” as stated by Prime Minister himself in the parliament?

The fact that the Prime Minister held the coal ministry portfolio at that time makes him prima facie answerable to the coal ministry’s actions at the time of allocation of blocks. How has he been evading the whole mess is a master stroke played by him and his office.

As R Jagannathan in his article puts it, the mundane truth is simple: if anyone is guilty of irresponsibility and breach of public trust in the coal block misallocations, it is the Prime Minister and his office.

But we have only seen people sing praises over his integrity and honesty.

The last hope lies with judiciary. As Parekh subtly puts it, “If ultimately the case goes to the court and the court finds that there is something wrong, I can’t say I am not responsible. I am as much responsible as the PM if there is something wrong.”

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