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Coalgate summons ridiculous: Manmohan Singh

NEW DELHI: Former PM Manmohan Singh on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court and sought quashing of a Delhi court’s summons asking him to face trial as an accused in the alleged irregular allotment of Talbira-II coal block to a joint venture of Hindalco.

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I am upset, Manmohan Singh says after court summons him as accused in coal scam case

Manmohan Singh summoned as accused in coal scam case

What compelled trial court judge to summon Manmohan Singh

Singh had to move the SC as the apex court, which monitored the CBI probe into the coal scam, had restrained the high courts from entertaining any petition against the orders of the special CBI court.

The trial court had on March 11 issued summons to Singh, industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, his company Hindalco and its officials Subhendu Amitabh and D Bhattacharya, and former coal secretary P C Parakh asking them to appear before it as accused and face trial for charges under Prevention of Corruption Act and Indian Penal Code.

The summons were based on the allegation that allocation of Talbira-II coal block in Odisha was changed from Neyveli Lignite Corporation to a joint venture of Mahandai coal fields, NLC and Birla’s Hindalco causing loss to the exchequer. Singh held the coal ministry portfolio at that time. The trial judge had summoned the six terming the decision to change allocation from NLC to a JV of Hindalco against public interest.

In his petition, Singh has termed as “ridiculous” the logic behind the issuance of summons. It said an administrative decision could be “good or bad” but it was unheard of to introduce criminality into the decision by terming it post-facto as against public interest.

“There is not even a whisper of allegation in the order summoning Singh as an accused that he had any criminal intent in the coal block allocation,” the special leave petition said and stressed on the “strict liability classification” adopted in criminal law for making a person accused in a case.

“An official while taking a decision must be aware of the criminality in the decision. It was only then that the criminal liability for the decision could be fastened on him. Otherwise, any administrative decision could be termed post-facto as against public interest making every officer or public servant cower under the fear of being summoned as an accused even if he/she had bona fide believed in the correctness of the decision,” said a lawyer involved in the drafting of the appeal.

Moreover, it is not for the court to decide whether an administrative decision was good or bad and whether or not it was against public interest, he said. “The duty of the court is only to see whether any crime has been committed and if so whether there was evidence to nail the guilty.”

Hindalco chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla and Parakh have also filed petitions challenging the trial court order. They may make a mention of their appeals in a day or two.

Singh, Birla and other summoned accused could derive solace from the fact that the Supreme Court had given relief to industrialists Sunil Mittal and Ravi Ruia when they were similarly summoned by the trial court in the alleged irregular allotment of 2G spectrum during NDA regime in 2003.

But, the case could present a piquant situation for the present NDA government as the CBI could oppose grant of relief to Singh and other accused by agreeing with the trial court’s decision despite it having not filed charge-sheet against them in the case. The CBI had done so in the case against Mittal and Ruia when they had appealed in the SC against issuance of summons.

A day after the trial court issued summons, senior advocate Kapil Sibal had faulted special judge Bharat Parashar’s decision and said, “The conspiracy and criminal breach of trust charge perceived by the judge from the investigation report and accompanying evidence has no limbs to stand.”

“If taking an administrative decision and asking the coal ministry to expedite the process could land a PM in litigation, that too as an accused after he demits office, then every prime minister will be wary of taking such decisions for the fear of being summoned as an accused. There is no evidence to even prima facie conclude that Singh indulged in any wrongdoing, forget corruption,” he had told TOI.

The trial judge said Singh as coal minister allowed reopening of the allocation “even though he himself had permitted the approval of the minutes of 25th screening committee recommending allocation of the same block to Neyveli Lignite Corporation Ltd, a public sector undertaking”.

“Repeated reminders from PMO, written as well as telephonic, to ministry of coal to expeditiously process the matter in view of the letters received from Kumar Mangalam Birla also prime facie indicate the extra undue interest shown by the PMO in the matter,” the judge said.

Singh’s action, the judge said, defeated NLC’s efforts to set up a 2,000 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, Hindalco,” he said.

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