Coal block case: Court summons Manmohan Singh

New Delhi


A special court here on Wednesday summoned former prime minister Manmohan Singh, industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary P.C. Parakh in a coal block allocation case, terming it a "criminal conspiracy" with the objective to "do an illegal act".

Manmohan Singh said he was "upset" but was sure that "truth will prevail".

The court summons triggered a flurry of reactions with the Congress coming out in strong defence of Manmohan Singh.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said the former prime minister was paying for the "sins" of the Congress party.

Special Judge Bharat Parashar, after taking cognizance of the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) final report in the case, also summoned officials Shubendu Amitabh and D. Bhattacharya of Birla-owned Hindalco on April 8.

Manmohan Singh, also the then coal minister, despite not being named as an accused by the CBI in the original first information report (FIR), was summoned by the court for the alleged offences under criminal conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and provisions under the Prevention of Corruption Act.

All the six accused have been summoned as accused in a case related to allocation of the Talabira II coal block in Odisha to Hindalco in 2005.

Manmohan Singh, who headed the United Progressive Alliance government for 10 years, said he had already stated his position before the CBI.

"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.

"I have always said I am open for legal scrutiny. I am sure the truth will prevail and I will get a chance to put forward my case with all the facts," Manmohan Singh said, adding that he will discuss with his legal counsel on contesting the summons.

The court said a "well-planned and well-designed exercise" was initiated to accommodate Hindalco in the Talabira-II coal block by involving various public servants at different levels in the ministry of coal (MoC) and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).

In the process, the recommendation of the 25th Screening Committee was nullified by adopting a procedure contrary to the approved guidelines and rule of law, the court remarked.

"The proposal to accommodate Hindalco in the Talabira-II coal block with a share of 15 percent was approved without amending or relaxing the approved guidelines... by assigning a share of 15 percent instead of 7.5 percent... Hindalco was allowed to dishonestly misappropriate excess amount of coal and the MoC and PMO did so in complete disregard to the public interest involved," the order said.

"Such a well-planned exercise, which, I may also say, was so meticulously carried out, can be prima facie termed only as a criminal conspiracy and the object of the same was only to do an illegal act," it read.

The court noted that the PMO showed "extra undue interest" in the matter by giving repeated reminders -- written as well as telephonic -- to the MoC to expeditiously process the allotment of the Talabira-II coal block to Hindalco in view of letters received from Birla.

"In the present case, Manmohan Singh chose to keep the coal portfolio with him, and thus prima facie he can not claim that being prime minister, he could not be expected to personally look into the minute details of each and every case," the court said.

"It will be also not wrong if I say that while coming to such a conclusion about prima facie involvement of the then prime minister in the present matter, this court had to act with a heavy conscience and with full realisation, the present order or the observations/conclusions being made here will have over the morale of the country as a whole," the court remarked.

On the role of Birla in the case, the court said he, being the chairman of a leading industrial house of the country, played an "active role by tapping his bureaucratic and political channels" along with Bhattacharya and Amitabh in order to secure allocation of Talabira-II.

The court on December 16 last year, while refusing to accept the CBI's closure report, had directed the agency to record the former prime minister's statement.

Defending Manmohan Singh, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party was confident that examination of full facts will establish fairness and transparency in the allocation.

Congress leader Kapil Sibal said he was "saddened" at Manmohan Singh being summoned by a court. - IANS