Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s decision to approve the coal ministry’s decision to allocate an Odisha coal block to aluminium producer Hindalco and public-sector firm Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) was perfectly fair and in public interest, former department secretary PC Parakh said on Wednesday.
His comments come three days after the Central Bureau of Investigation, investigating the multi-crore coal scam, reportedly questioned Singh over his approval to allocate Talabira-II block to both firms. The former PM held the coal portfolio then.
“Even if the 25th screening committee, which I chaired, recommended the entire block be given to Hindalco, it would have been correct as the block was in a list reserved for the private sector. Hindalco applied before NLC and was backed by the state government for its potential to generate revenue and jobs. The committee found both firms equally eligible,” Parakh told HT.
“Yet, I recommended NLC only as it was a PSU and sitting on a cash surplus with no new projects,” he added.
The Supreme Court last September cancelled the allocation of over 200 coal blocks, saying licences issued were illegal and arbitrary. Fresh auctions are scheduled for Thursday, following an ordinance by the government last month.
“I only modified the committee’s recommendation, not reversed it, and hence both companies were jointly allocated the block,” Parakh said.
The CBI has already quizzed the former secretary for allegedly reversing the committee’s decision.
Parakh said Singh’s questioning was in line with the decision of a trial court’s that in December refused to accept the CBI closure report in the case and ordered further investigation. As then coal secretary and part of the concerned screening committee, I was a part of the Talabira-II decision and there was no criminality,” he said.
The CBI said it will include Singh’s statement in its status report to be submitted in court by January 27.