CBI may soon examine Manmohan Singh in coal-scam case

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CBI may soon examine former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in connection with allocation of Talabira II coal block to Hindalco in 2005 when he held the charge of the coal ministry too. Sources say Singh, who is likely to be examined in a few days, will be asked questions on the lines of the eligibility criteria of the private company for bagging the coal block after the rejection by the screening committee.

The former PM is also likely to be asked questions related to allegations leveled by CBI earlier in its FIR in 2013. It was alleged that the company got the coal block even after being rejected by the screening committee.

Singh is also likely to be asked about the allegations that only material change that took place between rejection of Hindalco’s application by the screening committee and allotment were two letters routed to the then coal secretary PC Parakh through the PMO and his personal meeting with Kumar Mangalam Birla.

Asked when will Singh be examined, a senior CBI officer said, “We will comply with the court order.”

Special judge Bharat Parashar had last month directed CBI to examine Singh in the case. The agency has to file its report by January 27. 

CBI has, in the past, already examined TKA Nair, former principal secretary to Manmohan Singh, and two more officials Vini Mahajan and Ashish Gupta, who were posted in PMO between 2006 and 2009.

The PMO then had defended the allocation to Hindalco, justifying the decision and had taken full responsibility for it. It had stated that Singh had approved the allocation to Aditya Birla Group’s Hindalco on the basis of merits placed before him.

Hindalco has also defended the allocation and said that it was eligible for the block since the company was the first applicant. The company was also backed by Odisha government.

Judge Bharat Parashar ordered CBI to examine the former PM saying “eyebrows are certainly raised” in the manner in which PMO and the coal ministry had handled Birla’s plea.

“If in the light of the documents recovered, the subsequent meetings which Birla had initially with the prime minister and thereafter with PC Parakh (then coal secretary) 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 Hindalco,” the court had said.

It, however, added that there “cannot be any objection” to a leading industrialist meeting the PM or other officials.

“But when such meetings are seen in the overall 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 eyebrows,” the court said.

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