“Congress party has put the PM in the dock”

India Today - - NATION - IN­TER­VIEW P.C. PARAKH

If it is a con­spir­acy, then the Prime Min­is­ter was part of it. He was the fi­nal au­thor­ity as the min­is­ter han­dling coal.

For­mer coal sec­re­tary Prakash Chan­dra Parakh, 68, seems cool and con­fi­dent in the eye of the storm. Since Oc­to­ber 15, when the CBI came knock­ing on his door, he has stuck to his rou­tine—a morn­ing walk fol­lowed by yoga—be­fore meet­ing visi­tors. He spoke to In­dia To­day Se­nior Ed­i­tor Amar­nath K. Menon about the al­le­ga­tions against him. Ex­cerpts:

Q. On Septem­ber 5, 2012, you had told us how you had tried to pre­vent the coal scan­dal. You were pre­pared to tell all to the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment. Does that hold true to­day?

A. The Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee of Par­lia­ment did not call me to give ev­i­dence. If they re­ally wanted the truth, they should have called me first in the light of my ini­tia­tives for trans­par­ent bid­ding. I have not told the me­dia any­thing be­cause I am writ­ing my mem­oirs. It will take another three or four months. I will put the en­tire story in it. Q. Surely, you can re­veal more... A. The Prime Min­is­ter was def­i­nitely in favour of ini­ti­at­ing the bid­ding sys­tem. What I can guess—only guess—is that per­haps he did not have the sup­port of the party.

Q. In July, 2004 you had taken the auc­tions file to PMO. Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary TKA Nair re­turned it af­ter rais­ing a few tech­ni­cal queries. Did the bu­reau­crats stall the in­tro­duc­tion of a trans­par­ent reg­u­la­tory sys­tem?

A. The process started with a stake­hold­ers meet­ing on June 28, 2004, when I put for­ward my idea that the com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process is a bet­ter way to al­lo­cate coal blocks. I did not find many tak­ers for this even in the in­dus­try. My guess is that peo­ple thought that when they can get it for free why pay for it? I thought when the num­ber of ap­pli­cants is large it will be dif­fi­cult to make an ob­jec­tive se­lec­tion. There­fore, I drafted the com­pet­i­tive bid­ding pro­posal and put it up to the Prime Min­is­ter. I dis­cussed it with him dur­ing my first brief­ing about the min­istry. He agreed with me. I set the ball rolling by bring­ing some amend­ments to the Coal Mines Na­tion­al­i­sa­tion Act 1973. My as­sess­ment at that time was that the sys­tem would be in place by the end of 2004. There­fore, I kept the screen­ing com­mit­tee on hold.

Then, Shibu Soren came back as the coal min­is­ter and the Cab­i­net note was put up.He pointed out that it was not de­sir­able at this point of time and de­cided to con­tinue with the ex­ist­ing sys­tem. The com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process went into cold stor­age. So, when the Prime Min­is­ter be­came coal min­is­ter again af­ter Soren re­signed, it was de­cided that work on the bid­ding process could be started. I sub­mit­ted a Cab­i­net note, sug­gest­ing small amend­ments to the Coal Mines Na­tion­al­i­sa­tion Act. The law depart­ment

The Prime Min­is­ter was in favour of ini­ti­at­ing the bid­ding sys­tem. Per­haps, he didn’t have the party’s sup­port.

sug­gested the in­clu­sion of a brief amend­ment sug­gest­ing that coal block al­lo­ca­tion would be done by com­pet­i­tive bid­ding and another amend­ment to frame the rel­e­vant rules. But the PMO took the view that we need not take the or­di­nance route for pri­or­ity and in­stead take the par­lia­men­tary route. That was the first hur­dle. It showed that in no way could com­pet­i­tive bid­ding be in­tro­duced soon.

Then, the Min­is­ter of State for Coal Dasari Narayana Rao said the state gov­ern­ments are op­posed to the new process. T.K.A. Nair took a meet­ing with chief sec­re­taries of the states. All that the states had to do was pro­vide in­for­ma­tion lim­ited to ver­i­fy­ing the bona fides of the ap­pli­cants which serve as in­puts in de­ci­sion mak­ing. But the PMO took the view that the states had reser­va­tions about the al­lo­ca­tion process and this was in­cluded in the Cab­i­net note which, there­after, Dasari Narayana Rao put in cold stor­age un­til I re­tired. From what I gath­ered sub­se­quently, he re­turned it with the not­ing that the ex­ist­ing sys­tem of al­lo­ca­tion could con­tinue. There­after, it was pro­posed that it should not be lim­ited to coal but cover other min­er­als which are gov­erned by the Mines and Min­er­als De­vel­op­ment Reg­u­la­tion Act, 1957, push­ing the bid­ding process deeper into cold stor­age.

You don’t need any great in­tel­li­gence to un­der­stand why this is done. If I had cir­cum­vented ex­ist­ing sys­tems to some ex­tent, it was only to im­part ra­tio­nal­ity to the al­lo­ca­tions.

Q. What hap­pened when you made a sec­ond at­tempt to con­vince the PMO be­fore re­tir­ing in De­cem­ber 2005?

A. Af­ter Shibu Soren came to power a sec­ond time he held on to some im­por­tant files, I went to him and told him my read­ing was that they were be­ing de­lib­er­ately held up. He took it up with the Prime Min­is­ter through T.K.A. Nair which he men­tioned to me when we met at a func­tion a few days later. But af­ter two weeks, Shibu Soren sug­gested the pro­posal be dropped as he dis­agreed with me. The file there­after re­mained with Narayana Rao.

Q. How will you counter the Prime Min­is­ter now that you are named in a FIR ac­cus­ing you of con­spir­acy? What is your de­fence?

A. Tal­abira II is a cap­tive block for which Neyveli Lig­nite Cor­po­ra­tion (NLC ) and Hin­dalco were two cred­i­ble ap­pli­cants. Both par­ties have equally good fi­nan­cial mus­cle and tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence. Ini­tially, there was a slight bias to­wards NLC which was my own min­istry’s com­pany. The screen­ing com­mit­tee took the de­ci­sion in its favour and I sup­ported it. Be­fore we is­sued an or­der, Ku­mar Man­galam Birla made a rep­re­sen­ta­tion and asked me how his com­pany’s claims were in­fe­rior to that of NLC. He pointed out that his claim was slightly bet­ter than that of NLC as his com­pany was the first ap­pli­cant. He asked that while I am not dis­put­ing giv­ing it to NLC,why ex­clude us? He also ex­plained how NLC as a PSU could get a block any­where while he as a pri­vate player was en­ti­tled to ap­ply only for no­ti­fied blocks. I thought there was merit in what he was say­ing.

The PMO also sent the rep­re­sen­ta­tion for re­con­sid­er­ing it. I found there was logic in what he said. So, I made the pro­posal for NLC and Hin­dalco to make it a joint ven­ture and the PM ap­proved it. The re­con­sid­er­a­tion of a de­ci­sion does not be­come a con­spir­acy with Ku­mar Man­galam Birla. I take full re­spon­si­bil­ity for a fair de­ci­sion and I do not re­gret it. The Prime Min­is­ter as the coal min­is­ter at that time ap­proved of it. To my mind there is noth­ing wrong. If it is a con­spir­acy there are three per­sons—Ku­mar Man­galam Birla, me as the Coal Sec­re­tary and the Prime Min­is­ter who was then in charge of Coal. 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 Birla and me. Q. Do you think there is a witch hunt? A. I do not un­der­stand what the Congress gets by do­ing this to me. If at all, I think they are just un­nec­es­sar­ily putting the Prime Min­is­ter in the dock. And by call­ing it a con­spir­acy, he be­comes a co–con­spir­a­tor. It de­fies logic.

Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @Amar­nathK­Menon

THE HINDU

To read the full in­ter­view, go to www.indiatoday.in/parakh

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