The CBI’s inability to get to the bottom of the coal block allocation scam has been squarely exposed by its latest FIR naming Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Birla, former coal secretary PC Parakh and aluminium major Hindalco as accused in the case. The agency is clearly not interested in pursuing the trail of investigations leading to the Prime Minister’s Office. This is despite revelations in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s performance audit report directly linking the PMO to flawed coal block allocation policy.
The report, which pegged the loss to the exchequer at Rs1.86 lakh crore, clearly points out how the PMO was to blame for the genesis of the scam in its tearing hurry to dole out coal blocks to private companies for captive mining. While the stated aim was to quickly ramp up coal production, and thereby boost power generation and the manufacturing sector, Manmohan Singh’s crusader’s zeal for liberalisation was not shared by those who benefitted from his largesse. After the CAG report was tabled, a parliamentary committee found that only two of the nearly 160 captive coal blocks allotted since 2004 had started production.
The CAG report revealed that ineligible companies were allocated coal blocks and that competitive bidding would have prevented companies from accruing windfall profits. The CAG also found the functioning of the Screening Committee, which awarded the coal blocks, shrouded in irregularity. In fact, the CAG report vividly details how Parakh, coal secretary between March 2004 and December 2005, repeatedly pointed out these deficiencies to the PMO only to be overruled with flimsy counter-arguments. The irony of the whistleblower then finding himself in the dock now has hardly been missed. In his defence, Parakh has claimed that Manmohan Singh took the final decision on his recommendation to share the Talabira-II block (reserved exclusively for PSUs) between Birla’s company, Hindalco, and the PSU, Neyveli Lignite Corporation. Parakh termed it a legitimate decision while criticising the CBI for not naming the PM as a conspirator too.
Without naming anyone, Parakh has alleged that some ministers were unhappy at his attempts to ring in transparency and sent representations to the PM to move him out of the coal ministry. With his integrity under a cloud, Parakh must now reveal the backroom dealings that facilitated the greatest loot of a valuable natural resource. For the CBI seems incapable of probing the PMO’s suspicious role in the Screening Committee deliberations. While it is unfortunate that the Prime Minister and his office has been repeatedly dragged into the “coalgate” scandal, disturbing details have surfaced during the CBI’s 16-month-old probe. Attempts were made to change investigating officers and the CBI allowed PMO and coal ministry officials to vet a probe status report meant for the Supreme Court’s eyes.
Then crucial files went missing from the coal ministry and the Ministry of Corporate Affairs stonewalled CBI’s plea to question Parakh’s successor HC Gupta. With public opinion building up against Parakh’s implication and corporates pledging support for Birla, questions will be raised about the direction the CBI probe is heading in. If the CBI is making a point that it has no holy cows, why then this 16-month delay in interrogating PMO officials?