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Court asks CBI to ‘examine’ Manmohan Singh in Hindalco case

The court also directed the agency to file status report of its further probe in the case on January 27, next year.

By: Express News Service Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | New Delhi |
Updated: December 17, 2014 4:30:30 am
vijay-manmohan Manmohan Singh was holding charge of Coal Minister in 2005

Observing that there was a “concerted effort” to “manipulate” the government machinery in the 2005 allocation of a coal block in Orissa to Hindalco, a special court on Tuesday ordered the CBI to “examine” former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the then coal minister, in the case.

Ordering further investigation into the case, Special Judge Bharat Parashar said, “I am of the considered opinion that before the matter is examined further as to what offence, if any, stand 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 written by Hindalco owner K M Birla to Singh, seeking to reopen the matter on the allocation, “certainly raise eyebrows”, the court said that a “concerted effort” was made to “manipulate the entire government machinery” to protect the interests of Hindalco and expedite the allocation of Talabira II block to the company.

“The number of reminders which were sent by the PMO as well as repeated telephonic requests seeking an early response from the Ministry of Coal (MoC)… raises grave shadows of suspicion,” the judge said.

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The special court also directed the CBI to examine other top officials in the PMO during the UPA regime. The special judge asked the CBI to examine Singh’s personal secretary B V R Subramanyam and “re-examine” former principal secretary T K A Nair. “T K A Nair has been examined by way of a questionnaire but towards the end, he refused to answer some of the questions, expressing… that he was not in a frame of mind of answering further questions. It will be appropriate if the IO examine B V R Subramanyam and re-examine T K A Nair,” the court said.

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 present 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 said.

It added that the allocation of the coal block to Hindalco “nullified” the screening committee recommendations “completely”.

On the contradictory stand taken by special public prosecutor R S Cheema on the closure report filed by the CBI in the case, the court said, “Submissions made by Cheema appear to be a logical conclusion flowing out not only from the various documents which were seized during the course of investigation but also from the manner in which the entire process was undertaken by the MoC and the PMO.”

It added that the Investigating Officer (IO), in the final report, had also submitted that “accommodating” Hindalco was found to be “not correct”.

The court asked the agency to probe whether “rule of law lost its relevance” in the process. “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 said.

Referring to the documents placed before it by the CBI, the court said that certain “loose ends” need to be tied up so that a “clear and comprehensive picture” may emerge. The court directed the agency to file a progress report after further investigation on January 27, 2015.

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