The former Coal Secretary, P.C. Parakh, said on Wednesday that if he was named a conspirator in the coal scam case, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was a party to the conspiracy because he had approved his recommendation to allocate a coal block to Hindalco, a company of the Kumar Mangalam Birla-led Aditya Birla Group.

Mr. Parakh, 68, a retired IAS officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, termed the CBI’s charges against him baseless and shocking. In its First Information Report, the investigating agency alleged that Mr. Parakh had re-considered his decision on a coal block allotment to Hindalco in his capacity as screening committee chairman as part of a criminal conspiracy to favour the company.

Speaking to The Hindu at his residence here, Mr. Parakh said it was true there were two equally eligible applicants: Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), a public sector undertaking; and Hindalco. The screening committee made the first recommendation in favour of the NLC but the decision was reviewed when the PMO forwarded Mr. Birla’s representation for reconsideration.

He said: “I found there was merit in his case. Hindalco was the first applicant and had the financial and technical competence and also a project on hand. I supported the allotment of the coal block to Neyveli [NLC] as it was a PSU. After reconsidering the case, to be fair to two companies which were equally competent, we decided to accommodate both.

“As Hindalco could not be given a block under government dispensation, we allotted the said coal block from the captive list and allotted another block outside the captive list to the PSU.”

Asked what he made out of the CBI’s allegation, Mr. Parakh said there was no case at all and he would come out clean. If at all, the CBI might blame him for a wrong decision. But a wrong decision would not amount to conspiracy or corruption, and the CBI had no evidence to prove its conspiracy theory. He felt the CBI was unable to make a distinction between a fair and correct decision made in the public interest and something which was malafide.

Clarifying that Mr. Birla had met him only once at his office, he said there was no pressure at all from the PMO to review the decision. “As the Coal Secretary, I made a recommendation and the Prime Minister, who was also holding coal portfolio, agreed with it. He could have overruled my recommendation. If the CBI says I am wrong, the Prime Minister is also wrong.”

“My two years of work in the Coal Ministry was appreciated as I brought transparency into the system and ensured that entire geological information was available on the website to prospective applicants. Otherwise, people used to surreptitiously scout…” for coal blocks, he said.

Arguing that the coal mining rights allocation would not have come under a cloud, had the government adopted auction, Mr. Parakh said he made a strong pitch for bidding, but it was opposed by the then Coal Minister, Shibu Soren, and his deputy Dasari Narayana Rao.

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