Thursday, April 02, 2015

Coal scam: SC stays summons to Manmohan, five others

Court puts trial proceedings on hold | Seeks CBI response in 3 weeks02 Apr 2015 | 2:09 AM

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court gave a major relief to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today by staying the summons for his personal appearance in the trial court on April 8 in a case of alleged criminal conspiracy and corruption in the allocation of Talabira coal blocks (II & III) in Odisha to Hindalco, an Aditya Birla group company, in 2005.

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Coal scam: SC stays summons to Manmohan, five othersManmohan Singh

 R Sedhuraman

Legal Correspondent

New Delhi, April 1

The Supreme Court gave a major relief to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today by staying the summons for his personal appearance in the trial court on April 8 in a case of alleged criminal conspiracy and corruption in the allocation of Talabira coal blocks (II & III) in Odisha to Hindalco, an Aditya Birla group company, in 2005.

A Bench comprising Justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan also stayed the trial court proceedings in the case. The apex court further granted similar relief to five others who had also been summoned by the trial court of CBI Special Judge Bharat Parashar.

They are: Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla; then coal secretary PC Parakh; Hindalco and its managing director D Bhattacharya; and Shubendu Amitabh, group executive president of ABMPCL, another company of the Aditya Birla Group. The apex court also issued notice to the CBI seeking its response to Singh’s plea for quashing the summons and the case against him after his senior counsel Kapil Sibal pleaded that the trial court’s conclusion that there was prima facie evidence to show illegality in the allocation was “totally perverse and maverick. This is not fair”.

Sibal claimed Singh had to choose between the recommendations of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and the screening committee of officials. In a democracy and federal structure, the Prime Minister had to give greater weight to the CM’s view rather than to that of officials and as such, Singh decided to allocate 15 per cent of the coal reserves in the two blocks to Hindalco, while the remaining share would go to public sector companies — Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and the Mahanadi Coal Fields Ltd (MCL).

Ignoring the screening committee guidelines could hardly be construed as a criminal act, Sibal pleaded citing several SC judgments in support of his contention.

On March 11, the trial court had held that there was prima facie evidence to suggest Singh was part of an alleged conspiracy and corrupt practice in the allocation. “The trial court is wrong on several counts, not just one or two,” Sibal pleaded. Senior advocates Ashwani Kumar and KTS Tulsi also appeared for Singh.

Kumar later said today’s SC order confirmed the strong prima facie case in favour of Singh and “we in the legal team believe that ultimately justice will be vindicated and truth will prevail.”

In its order, the SC said “the impugned order is required to be stayed and accordingly stayed” and granted three weeks’ time to the CBI for its response. It said would examine the objections raised by Singh and others.

Sibal argued that the trial court had gone wrong while deciding to go ahead with the case under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988 and in deciding that no prior sanction was required to prosecute Singh.

Questioning the trial court’s logic, he said Singh had taken the decision in his capacity as PM and Coal Minister and as such permission was needed to prosecute him. Further, the trial court had no power to record a finding on the facts of the case at the stage of issuing summons, he contended.

Senior advocates Harish Salve and Abhishekh Singhvi appeared for Birla and Hindalco, respectively, during the hearing that lasted about half-an-hour. The courtroom was packed with advocates, including those who had no case for the day, and mediapersons.

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