The Supreme Court today stayed a CBI special court order summoning former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, former coal secretary P C Parakh and three others, as accused in a case pertaining to grant of Talabira-II coal block in Odisha in 2005 to Aditya Birla group company Hindalco.
The trial court had summoned Manmohan Singh, Kumar Mangalam Birla, Parakh and the three others as accused in the coal block allocation scam case and had asked them to appear before it on 8 April.
Special CBI Judge Bharat Parashar had directed the three along with Hindalco and its officials Shubhendu Amitabh and D Bhattacharya to appear before the court on 8 April.
A two-judge bench also issued notice to CBI and sought a reply from the agency in three weeks.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for Dr Manmohan Singh, told the apex court that he had not committed any illegality while allocating Talabira-II coal block to Kumarmangalam Birla-owned Hindalco.
Sibal questioned the legality of the summons and cited lack of sanction as required under the CrPC and contended that allocation of a coal block was an administrative act without any criminal intent.
"I must confess that I have not been able to find out what is the illegal act done by the petitioner in the case," Sibal said at the outset of the 35-minute proceedings.
Sibal said the administrative acts of the prime minister in allotting a coal mine cannot be faulted on the ground that he did not follow the recommendations or procedures adopted by the screening committee.
He also referred to the earlier Supreme Court judgement by which all the coal block allocations were quashed on the ground that screening committee procedures were illegal.
"The trial court, in its order, says that you did not follow the screening committee and this is contrary to law," Sibal said, adding that the order summoning the PM does not stand the scrutiny of "public reasoning".
He also said that the trial court order overlooks the provision of prior sanction needed for the prosecution of a public servant under the criminal procedure code (CrPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Sibal said the decision to allocate the coal block may be ''right or wrong'' but it cannot be an illegal act and the trial court order does not stand the scrutiny of public reasoning.
''There was no final allocation. There was no communication of the decision. A decision unless communicated, does not become a decision,'' he said.
"We issue notice on all six petitions. The trial court order shall remain stayed," a bench of justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan said after hearing arguments by Sibal, who represented the former prime minister, and other lawyers in the case.
Manmohan Singh had moved the apex court on 25 March, seeking quashing of the summons against him and staying of criminal proceedings in the CBI court, on the ground that the 11 March order of the trial court was passed without application of mind.
He had also sought a stay on the criminal proceedings arguing there was no element of criminality in his decisions taken in the capacity of coal minister.
The Special CBI court had on 11 March contented that a criminal conspiracy initially conceived by Birla, Hindalco and its two officials, was carried out ''by roping in Parakh, and thereafter the then minister of coal Manmohan Singh''.
It had said that Singh's approval to allocate coal block to Hindalco ''prima facie facilitated windfall profits'' to the private firm resulting in loss to state-owned Neyveli Lignite Corp.
The SC order comes as a great relief for Manmohan Singh and the Congress party.