Record Manmohan Singh’s statement: Court tells CBI

New Delhi : A special court hearing the coal block case involving industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and others here Tuesday asked the CBI to record the statement of former prime minister Manmohan Singh who was then also holding the coal ministry portfolio.

Special Judge Bharat Parashar asked the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to record the statement of Manmohan Singh in the case.

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The court also ordered the CBI to conduct further investigation in the case and posted the matter for Jan 27.

“I have ordered further investigation. I desire that statement of then coal minister (Manmohan Singh) be recorded beside other officials,” the judge said.

The court heard a closure report filed in the case related to the allocation of Talabira II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Hindalco in 2005.

“…the entire proceedings which took place in the ministry of coal or the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with regard to allocation of Talabira-II coal block to Hindalco, I am of the considered opinion that before the matter is examined further as to what offence, if any, stands committed or by whom the same has been committed, it will be appropriate that the then minister of coal be first examined,” it said.

“I also find that some officers who were working in the PMO at that time and were concerned in one respect or the other with the allocation process in question were either not examined or were not properly examined.”

The court observed that B.V.R. Subramanyam was the private secretary to the prime minister and has not been examined. T.K.A. Nair, who was working as the principal secretary, PMO, has been examined through a questionnaire. He refused to answer some of the questions, expressing his inability that he was not in a frame of mind to answer further.

“Thus, it will be appropriate if the investigating officer (IO) examine Subramanyam and re-examine Nair,” the court ordered.

It said: “It need not be reminded over here that both the screening committee and the ministry of coal, including the ministers heading it, were acting as trustees of important nationalised natural resources of the country.”

“In a democratic society, it is incumbent of such people having dominion over the nationalized natural resources of the country to ensure that the said resources are handled and distributed in an objective and transparent manner with equal opportunities to one and all,” it said.

“With the aforesaid directions, I am accordingly sending the matter back to the CBI for further investigation,” it said.

The court said that the IO shall also mention the present status of all the public servants involved in the entire allocation process which led to the allocation of Talabira II coal blocks to Hindalco.

The CBI had booked Birla, former coal secretary P.C. Parakh, and others on charges of criminal conspiracy and corruption in the coal blocks’ allocation in October 2013.

But the central investigating agency filed a closure report in the case Aug 28, saying: “The evidence collected during investigations did not substantiate the allegations levelled against the people named in the FIR (first information report).”

The court, earlier, sought to know on what basis did the CBI draw its conclusion to close the case and what kind of investigation it has conducted.

The court also sought clarifications from the CBI whether an element of criminality was involved in allocating the coal blocks to the Birla-promoted Hindalco firm.

Special Public Prosecutor R.S. Cheema, in last month’s hearing, told the court that it could take cognizance of the CBI’s closure report filed Oct 21 as there was no prima facie “evidence against the accused to show their involvement”.

The court Nov 25 has asked the investigating officer if officials at the PMO and the then coal minister were examined. The officer said some PMO officials were examined but the then coal minister was not.