New Delhi: The coal allocation scam took another dramatic turn on Thursday with Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik becoming the latest political figure to find his name linked to the controversy. Amid reports that CBI could question Patnaik for writing a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to allot coal blocks to Aditya Birla Group Chairperson Kumar Mangalam Birla-owned Hindalco, the state government said the Chief Minister's request was made "keeping the best interest of the state in mind".
"Keeping the best interests of the state in mind, the Chief Minister had written a letter to the PM indicating that Hindalco's request for Talabira II coal block in the Ib valley of Jharsuguda district be examined," Odisha government said in a press statement. Patnaik too dismissed any wrongdoing on his part and said he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister just to examine the request of Hindalco.
The CBI had said Patnaik sent the letter after the screening committee rejected Hindalco's bid in 2005. CBI sources have said Patnaik wrote to Manmohan Singh (who was the coal minister during the period) to allocate the Talabira II coal block to Hindalco.
CBI had named former coal secretary PC Parakh along with Kumar Mangalam Birla in its 14th FIR in the coal blocks allocation scam. The investigative agency alleged that Parakh changed the decision of the screening panel committee that was held in 2005 after a personal meeting with Birla.
The charge was rubbished by Parakh. In a point-by-point rebuttal of the FIR, Parakh said that he had not done any undue favours to the industrialist. He also said that he failed to understand the reason why his meeting with Birla was being blown out of proportion.
"I don't know why CBI is smelling rat into it. A lot of industrialists meet and give representations. Somebody has to address a grievance. What is the big deal of Birla meeting me? What is a conspiracy," he questioned.
While reiterating that he recommended Hindalco's bid on the basis of merit, Parakh claimed that if he was a conspirator, then Manmohan Singh too was a conspirator.
The CBI's FIR against Birla triggered panic among industrialists. "Just because some coal block reserved for public sector is partially allocated to private sector - there's nothing wrong with that. It was done by the government. So I think it's a bit ridiculous. It spoils sentiment, it spoils perception," said Adi Godrej, Chairman, Godrej Group.
The CBI in its FIR also alleged that Parakh abused official position and allotted coal blocks to Hindalco showing undue favours. It states that there was approval from the 'competent authority'. The CBI's 'competent authority' reference is likely to snowball into a bigger political controversy as the portfolio was held by Manmohan Singh at that time.
The clamour for PM's resignation too gained momentum after Parakh's claims. Bharatiya Janata Party said that the onus of approving coal files rested on the shoulders of the Prime Minister and so he must resign.