Man­mo­han Singh’s de­fence in Coalgate crum­bles fur­ther as the for­mer coal sec­re­tary names the Prime Min­is­ter

India Today - - NATION - By Bhavna Vij-aurora

Scalded by the firestorm fol­low­ing Rahul Gandhi’s out­burst against that ‘non­sen­si­cal or­di­nance’. Iso­lated in his own party which thinks he is the big­gest li­a­bil­ity in Elec­tions 2014. Aban­doned by loy­al­ists in his loneli­est hour, Man­mo­han Singh needed some respite from the cru­ellest au­tumn of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer. But the lat­est twist in the still burn­ing coal mines al­lo­ca­tion scam only makes his or­deal, po­lit­i­cal as well as le­gal, worse. That last fig leaf of his de­fence is be­ing swept aside by CBI, which comes un­der the Min­istry of Per­son­nel be­ing han­dled by the Prime Min­is­ter. All along, his spin doc­tors were main­tain­ing that the Prime Min­is­ter was clean: All files had been sent to the coal sec­re­tary for “ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion”.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice ( PMO) had not con­tended with the pos­si­bil­ity that CBI would reg­is­ter a case against then coal sec­re­tary P.C. Parakh, who has a spot­less im­age, nor that Parakh would pro­claim that the buck didn’t stop with him. “By call­ing a fair and log­i­cal de­ci­sion a con­spir­acy, the CBI is putting the Prime Min­is­ter in the dock as a co-con­spir­a­tor along with in­dus­tri­al­ist Ku­mar Man­galam Birla and my­self,” Parakh told IN­DIA TO­DAY on Oc­to­ber 18, barely 48 hours af­ter CBI knocked at his door in Se­cun­der­abad, af­ter reg­is­ter­ing an FIR nam­ing him and Birla ( see in­ter­view).

The FIR, 14th in the case, per­tains to the 2005 al­lo­ca­tion of Tal­abira coal blocks to Hin­dalco, a Rs 80,000-crore turnover com­pany owned by Birla. It charged them with cheat­ing, forgery and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion, not­ing that the Odisha coal block, ear­lier with state-owned Neyveli Lig­nite Cor­po­ra­tion (NLC), was given to Hin­dalco on a shar­ing ba­sis. Clearly, the PMO strat­egy of keep­ing the Prime Min­is­ter at an “arm’s length” from the Rs 1.86 lakh crore coal scam had failed. BJP has re­it­er­ated its de­mand for his res- ig­na­tion and sources in CBI have said they do not rule out ques­tion­ing the Prime Min­is­ter. “We’ll first ques­tion Parakh, and fol­low the leads we get from him,” says a se­nior of­fi­cer. The Prime Min­is­ter does not get im­mu­nity from be­ing ques­tioned by CBI. All the agency needs is an ap­proval from the Pres­i­dent. Top CBI sources say, how­ever, that since the case is be­ing mon­i­tored by the Supreme Court, that clause may not be ap­pli­ca­ble. “The Supreme Court has said that CBI can in­ter­ro­gate with­out wait­ing for Gov­ern­ment’s ap­proval,” a se­nior CBI of­fi­cer says. CBI got this waiver from the Supreme Court on Au­gust 27 when it ar­gued that sanc­tion to pros­e­cute was not needed in court­mon­i­tored cases.

The PMO is aware that CBI can come knock­ing any­time now. The Prime Min­is­ter is pre­par­ing his de­fence, con­sult­ing the finest pri­vate lawyers. “If things get too hot for Man­mo­han to han­dle, even he is not averse to spilling se­crets of some pow­er­ful

Con­gress­men,” re­veals a close aide of the Prime Min­is­ter.

CBI sources say they have “enough ev­i­dence” to pro­ceed against Parakh and oth­ers ac­cused in the FIR. Nor­mally, CBI first reg­is­ters a pre­lim­i­nary en­quiry ( PE), and then fol­lows it with a reg­u­lar FIR af­ter gath­er­ing enough ev­i­dence. “We’ve been ques­tion­ing sev­eral in­dus­tri­al­ists, of­fi­cers and oth­ers re­lated to the coal in­dus­try. The modus operandi in al­lo­cat­ing mines ap­pears to be sim­i­lar in all cases. It is be­com­ing clear that de­ci­sions to al­lo­cate mines were taken out­side the screen­ing com­mit­tee,” says a se­nior CBI of­fi­cer.

The case reached the apex court in Septem­ber 2012, when ad­vo­cate M.L. Sharma filed a PIL seek­ing can­cel­la­tion of mine al­lot­ments on the ba­sis of the CAG re­port. Mon­i­tor­ing the CBI probe, the court asked the agency not to share de­tails of the in­ves­ti­ga­tions with the po­lit­i­cal ex­ec­u­tive. CBI Di­rec­tor Ran­jit Sinha was forced to ad­mit in court on April 26 that the March 8 sta­tus re­port was shared with then law min­is­ter Ash­wani Ku­mar “as de­sired by him” and joint sec­re­taries from the PMO and the coal min­istry. CBI, un­der apex court cover, grabbed the op­por­tu­nity to free it­self.

Sharma moved an ap­pli­ca­tion in Supreme Court on Oc­to­ber 17, say­ing that the Prime Min­is­ter, too, should be ques­tioned. “It is a case of preven­tion of cor­rup­tion. How can CBI in­ves­ti­gate with­out ques­tion­ing the Prime Min­is­ter, who was then the coal min­is­ter,” he tells IN­DIA TO­DAY. He says CBI is find­ing it dif­fi­cult to pro­ceed against Man­mo­han since he is the agency’s boss be­ing the min­is­ter in-charge of Min­istry of Per­son­nel. “The sit­u­a­tion won’t re­main the same once he is out of power,” he added. The court will take cog­ni­sance of the ap­pli­ca­tion on the next hear­ing on Oc­to­ber 29.

Even as the ground be­neath the Prime Min­is­ter was shaken, a Cab­i­net min­is­ter came out with this fee­ble de­fence: “What value does it have in law, when an ac­cused, against whom an FIR has been filed, is mak­ing base­less al­le­ga­tions against the Prime Min­is­ter, and that too not be­fore the inves-

tigat­ing agency but the me­dia?” he asked. “CBI is not gov­erned by pub­lic per­cep­tion but by law. No one is in­ter­fer­ing in the probe.”

BJP is en­joy­ing the Congress ’s dis­com­fort. Se­nior BJP leader Yash­want Sinha told IN­DIA TO­DAY: “Parakh must speak up now. He should re­veal how files were dis­posed of, who was giv­ing the or­ders, how chits were re­ceived from Congress party head­quar­ters in the PMO and PMO trans­mit­ted those in­struc­tions to the coal min­istry for al­lot­ment of coal blocks.”

BJP thinks the FIR against Parakh is ridicu­lous. Party spokesper­son Prakash Javadekar says Parakh is “an hon­est of­fi­cer” and that the Prime Min­is­ter must take re­spon­si­bil­ity and quit im­me­di­ately. “How can an FIR be filed against a man who first sug­gested that coal blocks be sold via com­pet­i­tive bid­ding, and also tried to bring some trans­parency in the sys­tem,” he said at a me­dia brief­ing. The Congress doesn’t want to make a mar­tyr out of Parakh. “That is ex­actly what the Op­po­si­tion wants. Our ef­fort will be to chal­lenge the ac­tion against the pol­icy rather than blam­ing Parakh. How­ever, we won’t take his side,” says a leader.

Apart from the per­func­tory sup­port from Congress, Man­mo­han Singh has been left to de­fend him­self. Con­gress­men hope the Prime Min­is­ter’s legacy will not be the is­sue in the 2014 Gen­eral Elec­tions. In­stead of sell­ing the past, they can mar­ket the fu­ture. Af­ter the Septem­ber 27 self-re­al­i­sa­tion by Rahul, they be­lieve Man­mo­han Singh’s achieve­ments or lack thereof will not be a poll is­sue. “If you go through Rahul Gandhi’s lat­est speech, he has clearly given a di­rec­tion to all of us. The next Congress gov­ern­ment will be led by a young lead­er­ship which will change the na­tion,” says a Congress sec­re­tary.

An 81-year-old man, hurt and bit­ter, can still spoil that dream. To read our pre­vi­ous sto­ries on Coalgate, go to coalgate



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