NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister's Office on Saturday ended its silence on the latest and possibly most explosive development in Coalgate by acknowledging that Manmohan Singh put his stamp of approval (on October 1, 2005) on the allocation of a coal block to top industrialist Kumar Birla's Hindalco. At the same time, it vigorously rebutted the Central Bureau of Investigation's claim of illegality, saying the PM stood by the decision as no wrong had been committed.
Taking what is being seen in political and bureaucratic circles as an uncharacteristically strong stand, the PMO said, "The PM is satisfied that the final decision in this regard was entirely appropriate and based on merits of the case placed before him."
The PMO statement comes after retired coal secretary P C Parakh — booked along with Birla for alleged criminal conspiracy and misconduct, and corruption - said that if CBI thought there were irregularities, then the PM ought to be "accused No 1" for giving his approval.
With the opposition baying for his resignation, Singh's move to forthrightly own up to having sought a reassessment of Hindalco's case after a representation by Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik appears intended to cap a politically debilitating controversy.
But by doing so, Singh, who at the time held charge of the coal ministry, accepted he was the "competent authority" who signed off on the coal allocations in the 2006-09 period - under CBI's lens — when he held charge of the portfolio. On whether the PM would be ready to be questioned in any Coalgate case, as suggested by senior minister Kamal Nath, a PMO spokesperson declined comment, saying CBI was yet to make such a request.
The PMO said it didn't wish to impede the CBI's investigation, but justified altering the screening committee's earlier decision to award the coal block in question to public sector companies Neyveli Lignite Corp (NLC) and Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL) by relying heavily on Patnaik's backing to...