NEW DELHI, April 1: In a relief to former prime minister Manmohan Singh, the Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold the summons issued by a special court in connection with the allocation of 15 percent share in the Talabira II coal block to Kumar Mangalam Birla-owned Hindalco.
The bench of Justice V Gopala Gowda and Justice C gappan suspended the summons by the special court holding trial of coal scam cases as counsel Kapil Sibal — describing the March 11 order summoning Manmohan Singh as “completely perverse” — asked where was the act of illegality. Manmohan Singh’s two daughters, Upinder Singh and Daman Singh, were present in the visitors’ gallery of court No.9 where the hearing was taking place.
The apex court also issued notice to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on a batch of petitions challenging the March 11 order and also stayed further proceedings in the matter.
The court also put on hold the summons against industrialist Birla, former coal secretary PC Parakh, D Bhattacharya and Hindalco.
It also issued notice to the central government on a writ petition by Birla, who challenged the constitutiol validity of section 13(1)(d)(iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The provision which has been challenged says “while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest....”
The court was urged to consider whether the principle of strict liability could be invoked when interpreting the section.
Sibal, appearing for Manmohan Singh, said: “Is it illegal to allocate mines? Is it illegal to choose private parties to allocate the mines? Is it illegal if I (the then prime minister) don’t agree with the screening committee — which has been held non-existent by the apex court by its August 25, 2014 judgment?”
Sibal asked where was the illegality and where was the “quid pro quo”.
Telling the court that the guidelines for the allocation of coal blocks were “not law” and they have no “statutory inscriptions”, Sibal said the prime minister can any time take decisions which may not be conforming to the guidelines to balance the “competing public interests”.
“Whether guidelines which are not statutory in ture could be invoked (by the special court) for launching a crimil prosecution,” he asked.
Sibal wondered how the prime minister reviewing the decision of the 25th meeting of the screening committee was illegal. “Every day, we review our decisions. Does it mean that I should go to Tihar jail?”
Even if a decision has been taken but not communicated, it was always open to review, he said.
He said even Mahatma Gandhi had said, “I change my opinion every few years”.
Counsel Harish Salve, appearing for Birla, said that in the Westminster form of government, the prime minister has plery powers and can call for review of any decision.
Sibal asked whether the “allocation of a part of tural resource to a private party and not entirely to a public sector undertaking be an act of corruption”.
“Is it that in this country no tural resource is to be given to private party,” Sibal asked, pointing out that everyone knows coal was in shortage and was needed for power, steel and cement.
Describing it as “fundamentally flawed”, Sibal said “meticulously planned exercise for seeking an allocation cannot by itself amount to crimil conspiracy involving public servants” as there has to be “evidence of crimil intent and a meeting of minds to do an illegal act”. IANS