CBI's coal dilemma: Is PM 'Competent Authority' or the Minister-in-Charge?

Manmohan SinghThe stewardship of the Coal Ministry continues to haunt Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. (IE Photo)

The stewardship of the Coal Ministry continues to haunt Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the CBI.

Sources told The Indian Express that CBI officials, working on the FIR against Kumar Mangalam Birla and ex-Coal Secretary P C Parakh had initially made references to the Prime Minister because he was Coal Minister when Hindalco got the Talabira II coal block.

In the final draft, approved by agency Director Ranjit Sinha, however, these references appeared as "competent authority'' and "unknown public servants.''

This isn't the first time that there has been an internal debate within the CBI on making a reference to the Prime Minister in the coal case.

As first reported by The Indian Express on September 4, the key CBI investigator had put on record what he called the "requirement'' to examine the Prime Minister among a lengthy list of "pending actions'' in the case. When that file reached Sinha, he is said to have clearly noted that "at this stage," the PM's examination wasn't required.

That the Prime Minister had approved of the allocation is a fact being repeatedly underlined by Parakh in several interviews after the FIR in which his refrain is that if he (Parakh) has been named as a ``conspirator'' by the CBI, so should the Prime Minister.

CBI officials clarified that the filing of the FIR was an "independent" decision and that no legal advice from any Government law officer was sought in the case. Interestingly, the CBI is expected to file a clutch of other FIRs in the coal block allocation case before October 29, the next hearing in the apex court.

Speaking to The Indian Express today, the CBI Director said that while he did not want to get into the details of proposals and drafts, the agency's case against Parakh and Birla was on a ``sound footing.''

... contd.

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