The CBI has closed its Preliminary Enquiry (PE) in a coal block allocation case against Jindal Steel and Power Limited (JSPL) in which it had “examined” former prime minister Manmohan Singh last year, highly placed sources told The Indian Express.
Sources confirmed that the CBI and the Chief Vigilance Commissioner’s office have separately informed the Supreme Court, which is hearing a clutch of cases related to coal block allocations during the previous UPA government, about the agency’s decision to close the PE.
Sources said that this case was related to the allocation of the Ramchandi promotional coal block to JSPL — owned by former Congress MP Naveen Jindal — on February 28, 2009, a day before the Model Code of Conduct for the general elections came into effect.
The allocation had come under the scanner because applications were initially invited for one block — West of Radhikapur — and the promotional block was added later, said sources.
The PE revealed that the additional block was approved by the then Principal Secretary to the PM, T K A Nair, and that Manmohan Singh was in AIIMS for a check-up when the decision was taken, said sources.
During examination, sources said, Manmohan Singh told the CBI that he took full responsibility for the decision that was taken to prevent any monopoly as the proposed coal-to-liquid project was new.
One of the complaints received by the CBI on this allocation was from Dharmendra Pradhan, then an MP and now the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gases. When contacted, Pradhan confirmed that he had sent a complaint to the CBI.
The Ramchandi block lies next to another coal block — Utkal B-1 — owned by JSPL, sources said. They said that during the PE, it was further found that the qualifying net worth of the block was Rs 4,000 crore but the JSPL’s worth at the time was only Rs 3,722 crore.
A CBI spokesperson said: “As per directions of the Supreme Court of India, CBI is not in a position to share any information relating to inquiry/investigation in coal cases.” Sources said the decision to close the PE was taken in December 2015 but was conveyed to the CVC only this March.
CVC K V Chowdry did not respond to queries from The Indian Express but sources confirmed that his office had recently received files related to three PEs from the CBI, including the one tied to JSPL.
Sources said that in 2014, CBI officers had recommended the registration of a Regular Case in the allocation but the then director Ranjit Sinha did not grant approval. The case was examined afresh after Sinha’s departure and the consensus was to close the PE.