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Manmohan Singh and the summons over Coalgate – Hindalco case




“Be you ever so high, law is above you”. Sometimes a saying can capture the concept of law and justice like no case can. It is a popular saying that law is supreme, that nobody is above the law. This has been proven in many countries where the high and mighty have been felled by court cases and forced to abandon their political careers and even spend time in jail – in fact, it is the rite of passage for ambitious district attorneys in the United States to prosecute senior political figures for all sort of wrong-doings. Greece, Italy, France, all have seen the high and mighty being felled as part of the judicial process.
Now we come to India. Is India also subject to this ? Well, it would seem so if you consider the fact that Laloo Prasad Yadav, Jayalalitha and a few others have been convicted of corruption, but after a very long process, stretching to decades. And they are out of jail, on bail, even though they have been convicted for periods stretching many years. So, technically one can think of the law applying to the high and mighty, but realistically it is difficult to think that the senior politicians could be convicted for their various crimes of corruption, criminal intent, and so on.
Now, we come to the case of Manmohan Singh. This is not new, since the basic issue has been under discussion for many months now, in fact years, since came into the public consciousness when the Coalgate scam raised its head. At that time, besides the many cases about allotment of coal blocks through the mysterious screening committees, there was the Hindalco case; in fact the CBI had opened a case against Kumar Mangalam Birla and the then Coal Secretary PC Parakh on which there was a lot of outcry. However, the CBI finally filed for a closure of the case, stating that there was no discernible evidence against them. They are all highly reputed, with Kumarmanglam Birla having a sterling reputation and the same with PC Parakh. This of course cannot be taken to mean that they could not be guilty, or somehow be let off the hook. It was a bit surprising then that the person who was directly in control, the then coal minister, also the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, was not even called for giving evidence, forget being charged like the others were. But then, who could call the Prime Minister in for this kind of interrogation; anybody who did this would have a very short career graph indeed.

Even now, when Dr. Manmohan Singh has been summoned as an accused, there is a sense of disbelief. How can the Prime Minister, who has an impeccable reputation for personal integrity, be summoned like this; obviously there is some problem somewhere, or maybe it is a case of vindictive behavior. The case was simple. Hindalco had applied for a coal block in Orissa, and was denied the allotment by the Screening Committee. Birla applied to the Prime Minster, and the net result was that the decision of the Screening Committee was over-ruled and the Coal block was allocated, with Dr. MM Singh being the then Coal Minister. This is what needs to be decided on; and as for the person honesty reputation, one cannot forget that this was the Prime Minister who Government was accused of being THE most corrupt Government in India; so personal honesty really does not count for much.
Also, there was a question of fiduciary responsibility. The Prime Minister is not only responsible for ensuring that the Government of India functions as per the constitution, but that there is the concept of equality of all before the law.
When the Coal block allocation was denied by the Screening Committee and the reputed industrialist applied directly to the Prime Minister, so far things are fine. When somebody wants to make a request and knows the concerned minister, then they would apply. It is for the Minister to ensure that the process followed is above the law. When the Screening Committee had denied the request, it would become more critical for the Prime Minister to ensure that the process followed for review is above board, not based on the high profile and connected nature of the person concerned. When Birla can apply to the Prime Minister, could those others who were similarly denied by the Screening Committee also make a similar case and would the Prime Minister have given them a hearing ? And when the Prime Minister was giving him a hearing, why did the Prime Minister not follow a process that would atleast give the air of impartiality ? It seems so wrong as to what was done, almost like a high and mighty calling the Prime Minister for over-turning the actions of the designated authority. And even more wrong for the Prime Minister to have agreed. Let him be prosecuted, atleast it will provide a message to others who might think about using their authority this way.




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