Coal case: Court stays summons to Manmohan

New Delhi :  A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan has stayed the proceedings and the summons issued by a special CBI court against former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and five others in the case of allocation of a coal block in Odisha in 2005 to Aditya Birla group company Hindalco.

The CBI court had directed Singh and others to appear before it on April 8, after it rejected a closure report filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation on the grounds that there is no ”prosecutable evidence” in the case.

Arguing for Singh, senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the court: “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 — a former Union minister — also argued that it is not an illegal act to allot a mine, contending that the administrative acts of the Prime Minister cannot be faulted on the ground that he did not follow the recommendations or procedures adopted by the screening committee.

He also referred to an earlier Supreme Court judgment 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 attacked the trial court’s order by which the CBI was asked to question the former Prime Minister, and said that “a judge cannot do this. This is not fair. This is maverick.’’

“A judge can reject the closure report or take cognizance of the closure report but he cannot decide the nature of the investigation,” Sibal argued.

The trial judge, on March 11, had said, “I am taking cognizance of offences under Sections 120B (conspiracy), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant) of the IPC and under Sections 13(1) (c) and 13(1) (d) (3) of the PCA against six accused — Hindalco, Shubhendu Amitabh, D Bhattacharya, Kumar Mangalam Birla, P C Parakh and Dr Manmohan Singh.”

Commenting on the Supreme Court’s order, former union minister Manish Tiwari said: “The summons, in the first place, even after the CBI had filed a closure report, was a case of judicial overreach by a Central Bureau of Investigation court. The SC has rightly stayed the summons.”

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