Says decision was appropriate, protected PSU interests, factored in Odisha’s backing of Hindalco

In the midst of shrill attacks by the Opposition over the alleged involvement of Manmohan Singh in the coal scam, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) on Saturday defended the allocation of a coal block in Odisha to Hindalco.

“The Prime Minister is satisfied that the final decision taken in this regard was entirely appropriate and is based on the merits of the case placed before him,” a PMO statement said. The Prime Minister approved the proposal on October 1, 2005.

Making it clear that Singh was the “competent authority” who cleared the proposal mooted by the Coal Ministry in 2005, the PMO emphasised that the allocation to a joint venture, including Hindalco, was not done at the cost of the public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation.

The PMO’s clarification comes a couple of days after the Central Bureau of Investigation named Aditya Birla Group Chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, along with former Coal Secretary P. C. Parakh, in its 14th First Information Report (FIR) in the coal allocation case. Hindalco is an Aditya Birla Group company. The CBI is investigating the matter under the supervision of the Supreme Court.

After the FIR, Parakh had said that if the CBI contended that there was a conspiracy in the allocation of coal blocks in Talabira, Odisha, Manmohan Singh, who as Coal Minister took the final decision, should be seen as a co-conspirator.

Odisha’s Backing

The PMO statement gives details of the decision-making process, and cites recommendations made by the Odisha Government. It said that while the file was being processed, “the Prime Minister received a letter dated 17.8.2005 from the Chief Minister of Odisha on the allotment of Talabira-II to Hindalco. The CM’s letter mentioned that the State Government had assigned topmost priority to the allocation of Talabira-II to Hindalco and had strongly supported the case in the Steering Committee meeting,”

Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s letter also mentioned that aluminium plants should get higher priority over independent power plants as they generate more employment, create more wealth for the country and directly add to the growth of the manufacturing sector.

“The letter urged that these special considerations be kept in mind and the matter be examined expeditiously,” the statement said. The PMO also emphasised that this allocation was subject to an ongoing investigation.

“No impediment is being placed on the CBI to continue the investigation and seek fresh information which may have a bearing on the case. The investigation on this and other matters must take their normal course under the law,” it said.

shishir.s@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on October 19, 2013)
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