The coal scam is back to haunt Manmohan Singh—even in retirement

CBI directed to record statement of Manmohan Singh
CBI directed to record statement of Manmohan Singh
Image: Reuters/Rupak De Chowdhuri
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India’s top investigating agency will ask the country’s former prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to record his statement after his government is being re-investigated for providing undue benefits to a leading industrialist in the coal allocation scam.

Singh was responsible for the coal ministry in 2005 when the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government decided to allot two coal blocks—Talabira II and Talabira III—to Aditya Birla group-owned Hindalco Industries. The group, a $40 billion business conglomerate, is owned by Kumar Mangalam Birla, one of India’s richest men with a net worth of $9.2 billion.

What happened in 2005?

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had in October last year filed a case against the then coal secretary, PC Parakh, for corruption and criminal conspiracy. Parakh later asked the agency to charge the then prime minister, as the buck stopped with him.

In August this year, the agency decided not to proceed with the case, but the special court has now rejected the closure report and asked the agency to seek a statement from Singh, before a final verdict is delivered.

“I have ordered further investigation. I desire that statements of the then minister of coal (Manmohan Singh) be recorded besides other officials,” a CBI judge Bharat Parashar said on Tuesday.

The coal allocation scam is a term used to refer to a series of discrepancies in the government’s coal block allocation to private and public companies without competitive bidding.

The government’s auditor had pegged the loss due to inefficient allocation at Rs 1.86 lakh crore ($ 30 billion) and the Supreme Court of India had in September cancelled 214 coal block licences allotted between 1993- 2014.

The new government under prime minister Narendra Modi is now looking to invite fresh bids for coal blocks.