'PM Responsible for Allocating Coal Block to Hindalco, NLC'
Former Coal Secretary P C Parakh, who was grilled by the CBI last week in connection with the coal block allocation scam, is learnt to have said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was “responsible” for allocating Talbira coal block to Hindalco and Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC).
Parakh, who has been named an accused in the CBI FIR for allegedly favouring a private company, also reportedly told investigators that Singh, in his capacity as the Minister of Coal, approved the coal block to Hindalco and not the screening committee. He argued that the screening committee was not an empowered panel and had not been delegated with the powers to take decisions on allocation, sources said.
“The screening committee was constituted by the government to screen applications for allocation of captive coal blocks with reference to eligibility criteria,” Parakh is learnt to have told the CBI.
During the 25th screening committee meeting, both Hindalco and NLC were found eligible for allocation of Talbira block. Interestingly, at the screening committee meeting representative of state government preferred Hindalco, but the representative of Power Ministry preferred NLC.
Parakh reportedly told the CBI that he had three options -- to go with the state government recommendation, to prefer NLC on the Power Ministry’s recommendation or to propose joint allocation of the block to Hindalco and NLC. He, however, recommended NLC as it was the Coal Ministry’s own company and capable of mining Talbira II and Talbira III as a single large mine.
After the representations were made by the Hindalco and Odisha government, he said, the file was returned by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for re-examination. Parakh then offered a range of options that he considered would be fair to all concerned, without sacrificing prime concern of operating Talbira II and III as a single mine.
“Since the screening committee had found both Hindalco and NLC eligible, there was no need to go back to it before submitting revised recommendations to the minister,” Parakh reportedly told the CBI.
When contacted, he said the CBI’s contention was that the screening committee reverses the decision to favour a private company.
“I told the CBI how the process of allocation works. Final decision is taken by the Coal Minister and in this case it was the Prime Minister who was handling the coal portfolio. Screening panel’s job is to screen the application for eligibility only,” Parakh told Express.
The CBI had filed an FIR against Hindalco’s chairman K M Birla and Parakh in October last. After the outrage in business community, the PMO had issued a clarification, saying all the rule and procedures were followed during the allocation process.
“The Prime Minister is satisfied that the final decision taken in this regard was entirely appropriate and based on the merits of the case placed before him,” the PMO had said.