Hyderabad, Oct. 16: Former coal secretary P.C. Parakh has defended the allocation of a coal block to Hindalco, saying he was convinced by the case put forth by Kumar Mangalam Birla and no wrong-doing was committed.
Parakh, who enjoyed the reputation of an upright officer while in service, has been named in an FIR lodged by the CBI in connection with the allocation of coal blocks to Hindalco, an Aditya Birla Group company, in Odisha. Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla is also named in the FIR.
In the course of his defence, Parakh said if he was being portrayed as a conspirator by the CBI, the same allegation will apply to the Prime Minister, too.
Parakh was defending his decision and he insisted that he came under no pressure from the PMO but his comments were construed as an attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was overseeing the coal ministry then. The BJP sought the resignation of Singh.
“If I have done any wrong, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who took the final call on allocation of coal blocks is also equally responsible,” Parakh told reporters in Secunderabad, where he lives after retirement.
Parakh explained how the coal block allocation, which he termed was the outcome of a “fair decision”, was done.
Parakh said Hindalco and Neyveli Lignite Corporation, a PSU, had applied for a coal block. The screening committee under the coal ministry decided that the block should be allocated to Neyveli as it was a PSU and was also eligible for the allocation.
But after the decision, Birla made a representation to the Prime Minister that Hindalco should have been given the block as it was equally competent and it was the first applicant.
“He (Birla) also met me. I found merit in the representation and suggested that Hindalco and Neyveli form a joint venture. My recommendation was approved by the Prime Minister,” Parakh said.
“By that time, we had taken a decision that government companies could also be allocated blocks outside captive mines so that the shortfall of Neyveli could be filled. In my view, there is absolutely nothing wrong with our decision, I don’t know why the CBI thought that there is a conspiracy,” he added.
Asked if the CBI omitted Prime Minister’s name deliberately, Parakh said: “This question should be asked to the CBI.”
It was in this context, while explaining how the decision-making process progressed, that Parakh referred to the Prime Minister.
“If there is a conspiracy, then there are different members in this conspiracy. There is K.M. Birla who made the representation, he is one conspirator. I, who examined the case and made a recommendation, I can be another conspirator and the Prime Minister, who as the coal minister, took the final decision, is the third conspirator,” Parakh said. “Therefore, if there is a conspiracy, all of us should be made accused,” he added.
He said the Prime Minister could have overruled him had he taken the wrong decision.
Parakh said he saw nothing wrong in the government decision. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with the decision. It was a very fair and correct decision that we took.”
In reply to a question, Parakh said he never faced any pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). “Lobbying by MPs, yes, but there was no pressure from the PMO,” he said.
He said the CBI has failed to distinguish between “a fair and correct decision and a wrong decision”, adding that the agency has not appreciated the issues involved in the case.
As coal secretary, he had tried to make the coal block allocation process more transparent by recommending open auction and e-auction by amending the relevant act, Parakh said.
He claimed that the then coal minister, Shibu Soren, was opposed to the idea. But when Soren resigned from the government, the Prime Minister approved the idea and asked him to prepare a note for the Union cabinet.
Parakh said the PMO was opposed to bringing an ordinance to change the law and preferred bringing a bill in Parliament.
He pointed out that the CAG report had said he was the one who brought transparency to the system for allocating coal blocks. “The CBI, after its investigation, has to file a chargesheet. In that event, we will make our case in the court,” Parakh said.