An Indian court directed former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh to appear before it in April, according to local media reports Wednesday. Singh, credited with ushering in major economic reforms while he was finance minister in 1991, has been named as an accused in a case related to the allocation of coal mines to private and state-controlled firms.
Singh, along with industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary PC Parakh, has been accused in a case pertaining to the allocation of a coalfield in the eastern state of Odisha to Hindalco -- a subsidiary of a conglomerate run by Birla -- in 2005. The company had first been refused the coal field it sought, but the decision was later reversed, according to local media reports. At the time, Singh also held the position of India's coal minister in a coalition government led by the Congress party.
Singh has reportedly been summoned for offenses of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust under the Indian Penal Code, and under provisions of the country’s Prevention of Corruption Act. Several other companies, business leaders and politicians have also been implicated in the potentially multi-billion dollar scam, which involves the allocation of hundreds of coal mines around the country to private and public entities.
“Congress is responsible for bringing former PM to this threshold, this is a huge sin … coal scam is Congress’s scam, that is why their mentality remains the same,” Prakash Javadekar, a spokesperson for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, reportedly said.
The alleged scam in the allocation of coalfields for captive use to power, steel and cement manufacturers saw over 200 coalfields given out to private and state-controlled companies between 1993 and 2010. A huge chunk of these allocations were made during Singh’s tenure, between 2004 and 2014. According to India’s Comptroller and Auditor General, the government’s decision to give out the coalfields on a first-come, first-serve basis instead of through a competitive bidding proecss, led to a loss of $29 billion in revenues.
“I am sure that truth will prevail. I will get a chance to put forward my case with facts,” Singh reportedly said, reacting to the summons.
The latest development comes just weeks after India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said, in its final probe report, that there is “no prosecutable evidence against anyone.” NDTV, a local news network, reported, citing sources, that while being questioned by CBI in January, Singh had denied interfering in the process of the allocation of the coal blocks.
“I depend on other people's advice. I signed on the dotted line but made no recommendation on the file,” NDTV quoted Singh as telling CBI investigators. Hindalco had also rejected allegations leveled against it and defended its actions in 2013, according to local media reports.