Coal Block Case: Manmohan Singh Gets Slight Respite; Supreme Court Stays Trial Court Proceedings

01/04/2015 12:13 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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NEW DELHI — Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the trial court order which had summoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and others in the coal scam case. The court also stayed trial court proceedings in the case on Wednesday, issuing a notice to the Center on a separate plea which challenged the constitutional validity of a provision of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Singh had been summoned by special CBI judge Bharat Parashar earlier after Parasher said he had found prima facie “incriminating circumstance” against Singh. The former PM and five others were asked to be present in court on April 8. The others include industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and ex-Coal Secretary PC Parakh.

Singh was named one of the accused in a case related to the grant of Talabira-II coal block in Odisha in 2005 to Aditya Birla group company Hindalco. Singh has raised the issue of lack of sanction to prosecute him in the case.

Former law minister Kapil Sibal, who is appearing on behalf of Singh, questioned the legality of the summons and said that a Prime Minister has plenary powers. He contended that an administrative decision cannot be termed illegal.

"We issue notice on all six petitions. The trial court order shall remain stayed," a bench of justices V Gopala Gowda and C Nagappan said after hearing arguments by Sibal, who represented the former Prime Minister, and other lawyers in the case.

The stay in proceedings applies to all five others named along with Singh.

82-year-old Singh's daughters, Upinder Singh and Daman Singh, were present in the court during the proceedings.

The bench also stayed the proceedings before the trial court and issued notice to the Centre on a plea challenging constitutional validity of section 13 (1)(d)(iii) of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

"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 said at the outset of the 35-minute proceedings.

Sibal said 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 the earlier Supreme Court judgement 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 said that the trial court order does not deal with the provisions on requirement of prior sanction to prosecute a public servant under the criminal procedure code (CrPC) and the Prevention of Corruption Act.

Referring to the essential ingredients of an offence, Sibal said that "there is no reference of meeting of minds to commit an illegal act by the accused persons".

During the hearing, the bench asked the counsel for Singh to satisfy it on provisions relating to grant of sanction to prosecute a public servant.

Sibal referred to various Supreme Court judgements and said "even if I am the Coal Minister at the relevant time, I don't lose the status of the Prime Minister who has got plenary power. Everyday, I take decisions as minister and reject the advice, should I be sent to Tihar Jail?".

There has to be a meeting of minds to do a criminal act with regard to allocation of Talabira coal mines to a private firm, he said, adding, "Where is the criminal conspiracy? Is it an offence to grant coal mines to a private sector company?"

Sibal said a decision may be "right or wrong" but it cannot be said to be an illegal act and the trial court order does not stand the scrutiny of public reasoning.

"There was no final allocation. There was no communication of the decision. A decision unless communicated, does not become a decision," he said.

Sibal also referred to the December 16, 2014 order of the trial court by which 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 and may take cognizance of the closure report but cannot decide the nature of the investigation, he said.

(with PTI inputs)

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