A special Court on Wednesday summoned former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the controversial corruption scandal involving coal mining licenses, dealing another blow to the Congress.
Billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Hindalco and former Coal Secretary P C Parakh were also accused by the Court along the PM with charges of criminal conspiracy, corruption and breach of trust in relation to the allotment of coal mine in Odisha. The accused will have to appear in Court on April 8 and if convicted would be sentenced to a maximum of life imprisonment. The scam dubbed as “Coal-Gate” came to light after the national auditor’s report in 2012 that questioned the government’s practice of awarding coal mining blocks at a concession to companies without competitive bidding. Last year, the Supreme Court cancelled nearly 214 coal blocks allocated by the government since 1993, saying they were illegal. The government is now re-auctioning the fields. The scrapping is likely to have implications for major political parties which governed the country between 1993 and 2010 including the BJP. In 2012, according to auditor reports, India had lost up to 1.86 lakh crore due to collision between the private firms and officials to decrease the cost of coal-field allocations.
The case involves the allotment of Talabira II and Talabira III coalfields in Odisha in 2005 to a joint venture between Hindalco which manufactures aluminum and Neyveli Lignite Corp. Ltd (NLC) defying the screening committee orders. Manmohan, the then PM held the direct charge of coal Ministry portfolio. The screening committee, the same year, had allowed allotting coal mines to the Neyveli Lignite Corp. Ltd which the former PM agreed. But he later asked to review the decision and to consider the request by Hindalco.
India is one of the largest producers of coal in the world and more than half of its commercial energy needs are met by coal. The CBI had filed a closure report in the court since the beginning which the Court refused to accept. Last year, the agency again approached the Court to close down the case in the wake of lack of evidence against Birla and Parakh. The Court then ordered the CBI to record the statements of the PM and the other accused and to submit an integrated report. Parakh, who has been incriminated in the CBI reports, asked why Singh, who gave the orders wasn’t named in the FIR. Even though the CBI found evidences against Birla and Parakh in the report submitted on February 19, they kept a silence on the former PM.
Manmohan Singh, whose government ran the country for a decade is known as India’s ‘cleanest politician’. He has not been charged with any crime till now. But the coal scam allegations along with earlier accusations like the 2G spectrum case and the Commonwealth games graft have already ruined his image as well as that of Congress in front of the people. Corporate interests have been given more priority over public welfare with the government backing the bigwigs in exploiting nature and the mineral wealth of the country.