Former prime minister Manmohan Singh will not have to appear before a trial court on April 8 as an accused in a coal block case.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the order summoning Singh as an accused for allegedly facilitating illegal allocation of the Talabira-II coal block in Orissa to Aditya Birla Group flagship Hindalco in 2005.
This came after Congress leader Kapil Sibal, arguing for Singh, asserted “not a shred of illegality” could be found in Singh’s actions and that the trial court judge had acted with a “premeditated mind”.
Opinion: The Hindalco contradiction
Justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan stalled further proceedings before the special trial court in the case, and also stayed the summons against Hindalco chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former coal secretary P C Parakh and three others.
“We issue notices on all six petitions. The trial court order shall remain stayed… further proceedings also to be stayed before the trial court,” said the bench, seeking responses from the CBI on petitions filed independently by all parties summoned on March 11.
Senior advocate Amarendra Sharan, who represents the CBI in coal cases in the top court, accepted the notices and said the agency would submit its replies. The bench also issued a notice to the Centre on Hindalco’s petition, which challenged the constitutional validity of Section 13(i)(d) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Singh’s daughters, Upinder and Daman, were present in the court during the proceedings, which witnessed senior advocates and veteran Congress leaders Sibal, K T S Tulsi, Ashwani Kumar and Abhishek Manu Singhvi wage a legal battle against summons to the former PM. Solicitor General in the UPA regime Mohan Parasaran and senior advocate Harish Salve were also present, arguing for Singh, Birla and other parties.
The special court had summoned Singh as an accused after observing that there was a “conscious effort on his part to somehow accommodate” Hindalco for allocation of the coal block.
The bench admitted petitions for hearing after detailed arguments by Sibal, who was assisted by other counsel. Sibal pointed out Singh was still a Rajya Sabha MP and he could not be prosecuted without procuring a sanction from the competent authority in the government in accordance with Section 197 of the Criminal Procedure Code.
“Even if I was the coal minister at the relevant time, I don’t lose the status of the PM who has got plenary power. Every day, I take decisions as minister and reject the advice, should I be sent to Tihar Jail? A decision may be right or wrong but it has to be illegal if I have to be summoned. There is no reasoning in law to support the summons,” he said.
“It cannot be said that only because a mine is allotted to a private company and not to a public sector unit, it becomes illegal. It was an administrative act to allot a block and not a shred of illegality can be found,” he added.
The lawyer claimed that the trial judge acted with a “premeditated mind”, which was clear from the December 16 order in which he asked the CBI to interrogate Singh. “Nobody appealed against this order when the trial judge wanted further investigation but his order of summons does not stand the scrutiny of reasoning. A judge cannot do this. This is not fair. This is maverick,” he said.