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Coal blocks allocation: SC stays summons for Manmohan Singh, others

File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
File photo of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The Supreme Court today stayed the order issued by a special court here on March 11 summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as an accused in a case related to allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, a part of the Aditya Birla Group of companies.
 
Along with him, Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former Coal Secretary P C Parakh and three other officials were also summoned as accused in the case for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust and under provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
 
All of them were asked by Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar to appear in court on April 8. While doing so, the court rejected the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) finding in its final report that there was "no prosecutable evidence against anyone".
 
A bench headed by Justice V Gopala Gowda also stayed the summons issued against Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and the others.
 
Senior Congress leader and advocate Ashwani Kumar told newspersons that the court felt that there were some important and substantive questions of law and processes that had been raised and it would like to decide on them.
 
He said that, in the meantime, the apex court had stayed the orders summoning Dr Singh and the others as well as the proceedings in the trial court.
 
Acting on six petitions filed by Dr Singh and the others in the case, seeking quashing of the summons, the court also issued notices in this regard to the CBI and others and gave them three weeks to file their replies.
 
Dr Singh was Prime Minister from May 2004 to May 2014 at the head of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government.
 
He was reportedly questioned by a team of CBI officials in January this year at his Motilal Nehru Marg residence here in connection with the allocation of the Talabira II block to Hindalco when he was also holding the portfolio of Coal.
 
The former Prime Minister is understood to have defended the decision and stressed that it was made after due deliberations.
 
Dr Singh had held the Coal portfolio between 2006 and 2009, which is part of the period that is being probed by the CBI.
 
Dr Singh's tenure in office was marred by the finding of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) that the delay in introduction of the process of competitive bidding in the allocation of coal blocks to private companies for captive mining had led to likely financial gains of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to them.
 
The CAG had, in his report tabled in Parliament on August 17, 2012 said that a part of this financial gain could have accrued to the national exchequer by operationalising the decision taken years earlier to introduce competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
 
The CAG estimated the financial gains to the private coal block allottees on the basis of the average cost of production and average sale price of opencast mines of the public sector Coal India Limited (CIL) in 2010-11.
 
The CBI had earlier sought closure of the case, in which Mr Birla, Mr Parakh and others were named as accused. The court directed it to carry out further investigations and submit a report on January 27. It also said that it would be appropriate if the then Coal Minister were examined first.
 
 
SC stays summons issued to Manmohan Singh in coal blocks case
The CBI had registered the case in October 2013, following which the Prime Minister's Office had, on October 18, 2013, issued a detailed statement saying that Dr Singh was satisfied that the final decision taken in the matter relating to the allocation of Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Hindalco was entirely correct and based on the merits of the case placed before him.
 
On September 24, 2014, the Supreme Court had scrapped 214 of the 218 coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010, sparing only four  -- two allocated to an ultra mega power project (UMPP) and two to public sector companies, Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and NTPC.
 
The Government put up more than 30 of those blocks for auction recently.
 
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