New Delhi: The probe in the alleged coal block allocation scam seems to be heading in a new direction, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) examining the correspondence between Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the coal ministry, then under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, recommending Hindalco for coal block allocation in the state.
While CBI is likely to question Patnaik, it has refused to be drawn into the controversy over who is the decision-making “Competent Authority” mentioned in its 14th first information report (FIR) in the case.
CBI might not have named the prime minister in the FIR, but a senior official argued the investigation was still underway and no conclusions should be drawn at this stage. The FIR says the final approval of allocation of Talabira II block to Hindalco was done by the “Competent Authority”, a term which has lent itself to many interpretations. CBI is expected to present its status report in the alleged coal scam in the Supreme Court on October 29.
However, reacting to former coal secretary P C Parakh’s statement that if he and industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla were named in the FIR, even the PM, who took the decision, should be made part of the case, a CBI official said the agency had evidence to suspect Parakh’s intentions. Officials also said the FIR included “unknown persons and officials”, thereby indicating more names could come up in the course of investigation.
CBI has learnt that Patnaik wrote letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who had additional charge of the coal ministry then, making a case for Birla’s group company. He had written the letter between May and July 2005, after the 25th screening committee’s decision to give the coal block to two public-sector companies. According to CBI’s FIR, Birla had met Parakh, the then coal secretary, in July 2005.
CBI’s 14th FIR in the alleged scam has named Birla as an accused, along with Parakh, for criminal conspiracy and abuse of official position. The agency claimed Birla had met the coal secretary to push for the allocation of Talabira II coal block in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district in the latter half of 2005.
Since the probe is still underway, CBI has yet to examine various facets of the case, including the motive behind Parakh’s decision to allot the block to Hindalco along with Neyveli Lignite and Mahanadi Coalfields.
CBI sources also revealed that besides unaccounted cash of over Rs 25 crore, the agency had recovered Rs 24 lakh loose cash, along with Kisan Vikas Patra and National Savings Certificate of Rs 17 lakh and retail invoice of Rs 94 lakh for the purchase of gold coins from raids in Hindalco’s Delhi office.
The company said in a statement it was taken aback by the discovery of cash at one of its offices by the investigating agency. “It has taken a very serious view of the matter and has instituted an internal team of senior managers to make a thorough investigation and report its findings at the earliest.”
Meanwhile, reacting to the controversy around naming of Birla in the coal case, Bajaj Auto Chairman Rahul Bajaj said: “I do not think there is a feeling that the government is going after business houses in a knee-jerk fashion.”
However, he added that the decisions and actions of the government appeared to take industry back to the licence permit raj of the pre-1991 days. “Whether the 2G, the coalgate’ or any other similar case, culprits include the giver and the receiver of illicit funds. So, businesses and the government are both guilty.”
According to Bajaj, after due process of law, a bureaucrat, a politician or a businessman, if found guilty, must be punished severely.