Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s approval to allocate coal block to HINDALCO prima facie “facilitated windfall profits” to the private firm resulting in loss to state-owned PSU Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd (NLC), a special court observed on Wednesday .
The court noted that approval given by Singh, who was also the Minister of Coal at that time, was in “violation” of the established procedure.
It also said that Singh had kept the coal portfolio with him and thus “prima facie he cannot claim that being Prime Minister he could not be expected to personally look into the minute details of each and every case.”
“His (Singh’s) approval in violation of the established procedure and already approved guidelines clearly resulted in defeating the efforts of NLC to establish a 2000 MW Power Plant in Odisha. His action thus prima facie resulted in loss to NLC which was a PSU and facilitated windfall profits to a private company i.e. M/s HINDALCO,” the judge said.
The court also observed that “compromising” the status of Talabira-III coal block, which was reserved for PSU and was with Coal India’s arm, Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), and allocating excess coal to HINDALCO again “prima facie crops up as an incriminating circumstance against him (Singh).”
Detailing the role of Singh, the court said he had allowed the matter pertaining to allocation of Talabira-II coal block to be “reopened” even though he himself had permitted approval of minutes of 25th Screening Committee recommending allocation of allocating the said block to NLC.
“The repeated reminders from PMO, written as well as telephonic, to MOC (Ministry of Coal) to expeditiously process the matter in view of the letters received from Kumar Mangalam Birla also prima facie indicate the extra undue interest shown by the PMO in the matter,” it said.
While holding that Singh cannot take the defence that being Prime Minister he could not be expected to personally look into the minute details of each and every case, the judge said, “I may, however, state that the present case stands on a different footing as here Dr Manmohan Singh did not act in the capacity of a Prime Minister but as a Minster of Coal.”
The court also noted that a Prime Minister of a country cannot personally look into minute details of each and every case and has to depend upon his advisors and other officers.
“Moreover as regard the officers and advisors working in the PMO to assist him, I may mention that their role has also been discussed in detail by me and I may also state that the role of various officers in the PMO or even in MOC has also not been prima facie completely above board,” it said.
The judge said Singh had approved a proposal put forth by then Coal Secretary P C Parakh, a co-accused, to accommodate HINDALCO in Talabira II and III coal block while ignoring the “words of caution” put-forth by two PMO officials K V Pratap and Javed Usmani.
“Also the omission to not to refer the request of M/s HINDALCO to the screening committee in accordance with the established procedure being followed till that time again prima facie shows that it was a conscious decision to accommodate M/s HINDALCO in a joint coal block comprising of Talabira II and Talabira III coal block while at the same time negating the right of NLC which already stood vested in it pursuant to the recommendation of 25th screening committee,” the court said.
The judge, in the order, clarified that he was fully conscious of the observations made by him as the then Minister of Coal was none else but the then Prime Minister.
“It will be also not wrong if I say that while coming to such a conclusion about prima facie involvement of the then Prime Minister in the present matter this Court had to act with a heavy conscience and with full realization, the present order or the observations/conclusions being made here will have over the morale of the country as a whole,” he said.