Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Wednesday moved the Supreme Court against a special CBI court order summoning him as an accused in a coal scam case.
The senior Congress leader also challenged the trial court’s December 2014 order for further probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation after the agency sought to close the case.
Special CBI judge Bharat Parashar this month ordered Singh to appear before him on April 8 over accusations of criminal conspiracy and corruption in the allegedly illegal allocation of coal fields in Odisha.
The former Prime Minister’s petition asked for the special judge’s order to be struck down on the grounds that it was bad in law as it failed to fix any specific act of criminality on him.
He argued that because there was no coal policy in 2005 when the fields in question were allocated to a leading Indian company, he cannot be charged with favouritism and so the trial court’s proceedings should be stopped.
Along with Singh, the CBI court had also summoned ex-coal secretary PC Parakh and four others, saying “some acts of their omission and commission, though not all, show their complicity in the conspiracy”.
In 2012, while Singh was Prime Minister, national auditor CAG said the government sold around 200 coal field leases to private steel, cement and power companies as well as some state-run firms at artificially low prices and the non-transparent process cost the exchequer about Rs 1.86 lakh crore.
Late last year, the Supreme Court cancelled nearly 200 coal licences, many of them issued by the UPA government. The coal fields are now being auctioned online.
The 83-year-old is only the second former head of government in India to be summoned as an accused, after his mentor and fellow architect of the country’s economic liberalisation, Narasimha Rao, appeared in court in three cases on charges ranging from bribery to forgery. He was finally exonerated, but his legacy was tarnished.
The others summoned by the CBI court on April 8 were chairman of Aditya Birla Group Kumar Mangalam Birla, aluminium major Hindalco— a part of the group— and two of its officials, Shubhendu Amitabh and D Bhattacharya.
Birla and Hindalco have also challenged the trial court summons in the apex court. The petitions are likely to be heard by next week.
Senior advocates Kapil Sibal and KTS Tulsi are likely to represent Singh.
The case pertains to the 2005 allocation of the Talabira-II and III coal blocks in Odisha to Hindalco. It appeared, said the CBI court, that the former Prime Minister and former coal secretary played different roles with the common purpose of “accommodating” the company.
The trial judge had said Singh could not take the plea that he, as the PM, could not be expected to “look into the minute details of each and every case placed before him.”
He said that the former PM, who also held the coal portfolio between 2004 and 2009, could not claim ignorance due to his office.
The appeal in the apex court said the trial court didn’t establish how the former PM’s decision was arbitrary in administrative law.
Reacting to the CBI court order, Singh had said he was upset, but expressed confidence that the truth would come out.
“I have always said I am open for legal scrutiny...I am sure the truth will prevail and I will get a chance to put forward my case with all the facts,” he had said. “I hope, in a fair trial, I will prove my innocence.”