The CBI on Tuesday asked the prime minister’s office (PMO) for all records related to the allocation of Odisha’s Talabira coalfield to a private firm, three days after the top office said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had approved it on the basis of "merits" of the case placed before him.
“If and when required by the probe, we will seek clarifications from anybody including concerned PMO officials,” a CBI official told HT.
The move came on the day the agency submitted, in a sealed cover, a status report to the Supreme Court on the 14 FIRs and five preliminary enquiries (PEs) it has lodged in the coal allocation scam, which has come to be known as Coalgate. The apex court is monitoring the probe.
In its letter to the PMO, the CBI has asked for files regarding allocation of Talabira coalfield to an Aditya Birla Group firm, Hindalco, in 2005. It has sought records of all correspondence the PMO had with then Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik and Hindalco allegedly before the mine was allocated by the then coal secretary PC Parakh in November 2005, a CBI official said.
The agency told the court that last Tuesday it named Parakh, Hindalco, and Aditya Birla Group’s chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, along with unidentified “others”, in the FIR for alleged irregularities in the 2005 allocation of Talabira coalfield.
Parakh allegedly allocated a 15% share in the coalfield to Hindalco by overturning the “considered deliberations and recommendations” of the inter-ministerial 25th screening committee that was chaired by him and had rejected the firm’s application, says the FIR.
According to CBI director Ranjit Sinha, the agency is not probing any quid pro quo in the case. Birla had twice sent requests for allocation to the PMO that were forwarded to the coal ministry and he also met Parakh prior to the allocation, the FIR claims. Patnaik had allegedly recommended Hindalco to the PMO for the allocation.
Reacting to the FIR, minister of state in the PMO V Narayanasamy said, “We have nothing to hide and have already given thousands of documents to the agency.” The CBI has made it clear it will probe every aspect of the case before taking any further action.
Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal labelled Parakh as a ‘Sheikh chilli’ (a daydreamer) for his reported comments that the PM was equally responsible for alleged irregularities in Talabira allocation. Jaiswal backed the statement made by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), which said Singh had taken the decision based on the merits of the case.
In the status report, the CBI also apprised the court of the progress in its probe into the missing coal files, which seek to establish if there was any element of criminal conspiracy involved. The files, which include details of screening committee meetings during which allocation decisions were taken, have been described as vital for the probe by the CBI.