The CBI has examined former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in connection with the allocation...
The CBI has examined former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II coal block in Orissa to Hindalco in 2005, when he held the coal portfolio, sources said.
Earlier, a special CBI court had directed the agency to examine Singh and file a status report on further investigations on January 27.
According to sources, a team of CBI officers went to Singh’s residence on Sunday and sought information on what transpired in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the coal ministry following two letters — dated May 7, 2005 and June 17, 2005 — sent by industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla to him, requesting allocation of the coal block to Hindalco.
Singh provided answers to all the clarifications sought by the CBI officers, said sources.
On December 16 last year, a special CBI court in New Delhi had refused to accept a closure report filed in the case and directed the CBI to examine Singh.
Ordering further investigation, Special Judge Bharat Parashar had said, “I am of the considered opinion that before the matter is examined further as to what offence, if any, stands committed or by whom the same has been committed, it will be appropriate that the then minister of coal be first examined qua various aspects.”
Observing that the letters sent by Hindalco owner K M Birla to Singh, seeking to reopen the matter on the allocation, “certainly raise eyebrows”, the court had said that a “concerted effort” was made to “manipulate the entire government machinery” to protect the interests of Hindalco and expedite the allocation.
“The number of reminders which were sent by the PMO, as well as repeated telephonic requests seeking an early response from the coal ministry raises grave shadows of suspicion,” the judge had said. The court had also asked the CBI to examine Singh’s personal secretary, B V R Subramanyam, and “re-examine” former principal secretary T K A Nair.
The court asked the CBI to clarify why “settled procedures” on coal block allocation through the screening committee route were “not adhered” to in the case. “There are certain circumstances which need to be elaborated and explained, especially regarding the manner and the circumstances under which the matter was taken up in the PMO or under what circumstances the recommendations of the 25th screening committee were set aside even though it already stood approved,” the court had said.
It added that the allocation of the coal block to Hindalco “nullified” the screening committee recommendations “completely”.
“It also needs to be seen under what circumstances a deviance from the settled guidelines was effected. Whether the entire matter was dealt with at all levels in an objective manner or subjectivity prevailed so much that the objectivity or rule of law lost its relevance in the entire process completely,” Parashar had said.
Days after the CBI registered the case in October 2013, Singh’s PMO had issued a press statement rejecting any criminality in the allocation of the coal block. “The Prime Minister is satisfied that the final decision taken in this regard was entirely appropriate and based on the merits of the case placed before him,” it said.
The PMO statement had clarified that Singh was the “competent authority” for clearing the proposal mooted by the coal ministry in 2005. It listed the sequence of events leading to Singh’s approval on October 1, 2005.
On not following the screening committee’s recommendations, the PMO had said, “This was done following a representation received from one of the parties, which was referred to the coal ministry.”
“It is recognised that this allocation is subject to an ongoing investigation. No impediment is being placed on CBI to continue the investigation and seek fresh information which may have a bearing on the case,” the PMO had said, adding, “The investigation on this and other matters must take their normal course under the law.”