Coal scam: CBI in a bind over Birla-Parakh-PMO tangle

The Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI) is reported to be in a dilemma over proceeding with its probe into the allocation of the Talabira II coal block to Hindalco since the prime minister has taken responsibility for the decision, while defending the allotment.

In defending the allocation of the coal block to Hindalco, overlooking the screening committee's preference for central public sector undertaking Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC), the PMO has cited Odisha chief minister Navin Patnaik's "clear preference" for Hindalco in the "interest of creating more employment and growth of the state's manufacturing sector."

CBI is expected to file a status report of its investigations into the allocation of coal blocks before the Supreme Court tomorrow, with details of fresh FIR filed against Aditya Birla Group chairman Kumar Mangalam Birla, Hindalco and former coal secretary P C Parakh along with the progress on the investigation of the other 13 cases.

But, amidst claims and counterclaims on the role of the then coal secretary P C Parakh and the PMO, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strong defence of the allocation of Talabira II coal block to Hindalco, has created uncertainty about the fate of CBI's investigation into the matter.

CBI has accused Birla and Parakh of conspiring to allocate Talabira II coal block in Odisha to Hindalco, reversing the decision of the screening committee under the coal ministry to award the block to public sector Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and Mahanadi Coalfields Limited.

CBI is now said to be in a bind and is unsure whether to proceed with the investigation or not since the prime minister has taken the responsibility for approving the decision in Hindalco's favour.

The agency cannot close the investigation outright.

"We can't close the investigation straightaway and, having registered an FIR for alleged misconduct, will have to talk to all people concerned. But we are open to the idea of closing the investigation," report quoted a source at the CBI as saying.

CBI has so far named various corporates, including AMR Iron and Steel, JLD Yavatmal Energy, Vini Iron and Steel Udyog, JAS Infrastructure Capital Pvt Ltd, Vikash Metals, Grace Industries, Gagan Sponge, Jindal Steel and Power, Rathi Steel and Power Ltd, Jharkhand Ispat, Green Infrastructure, Kamal Sponge, Pushp Steel and Hindalco as accused in 14 FIRs and is expected to file its latest status report tomorrow.

The agency would also give a status of the preliminary enquiry into the issue of missing files relating to the coal allocation, the sources said.

The Supreme Court is monitoring the probe in the coal block allocation since 1993 on three PILs seeking cancellation of blocks on the ground that the government flouted rules to give away precious natural resources to a favoured few companies.

The Supreme Court has also issued notices to the governments of seven coal producing states - Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal - to explain the coal block allocation policies adopted by them, latest by 29 October.

Dubbed by the opposition and media as the coalgate scam, the issue pertains to Rs1,86,000-crore coal block allocations that has been billed as the 'mother of all scams'.