Cabinet Minister had Audacity to Reverse PM’s Decisions: Parakh

Shibu Soren and Dasari Narayana Rao were opposed to bringing in any reform in the coal sector, says PC Parakh

PC Parakh, the former coal secretary, finds himself in the eye of a storm, after the CBI named him as the accused in a FIR on allocation of a coal block to Hindalco. Defending the decision, Parakh says Hindalco’s claims were equally valid. Commenting on the experience of working with Shibu Soren and Dasari Narayana Rao, the former coal secretary says they tried to block all reforms

Why do you think Shibu Soren tried to get rid of you?

I had several differences of opinion with him. He was not interested in the system of bidding for coal blocks or marketing of coal through e-auctions. Appointment of chief executives for coal companies as well as other issues were the differences I had with him. So, he felt that if he cannot work smoothly, then better get rid of the secretary.

Do you think the system worked in the sense that you were not removed?

System has worked as the circumstances made it work. After writing a letter to PM seeking my transfer, Shibu Soren resigned to become chief minister of Jharkhand. Had he continued as minister — and his five members of Parliament were important for survival of the government — it would have been extremely difficult for the prime minister to continue with me. Because, around that time, there was a gossip website on civil servants called ‘Whispers in the Corridor’, which had already declared that I am being repatriated to my parent cadre, Andhra Pradesh. But ever since Soren left the coal ministry, the PM became coal minister and so it became possible for me to continue.

Please elucidate on the coal mafia?

See, essentially the coal industry has been under the control of the coal mafia right from the beginning. In coal belts in the country, there are lots of illegal things that have been going on. For example, marketing of coal. There has always been a shortage of coal in the country. Because the demand is much higher than the supply, a number of bogus industries have been set up just to get coal. They simply take coal and permits for coal and then sell those permits to people who really need coal. All these operations are carried out by mafia groups around different coal companies. There is a lot of theft of coal. The rakes which move from coal companies stop at different places and coal is unloaded.

What is your impression of the functioning of Dasari Narayana Rao?

He was also not interested in bringing in any transparency in the coal sector. Both Soren and Dasari were opposed to the ideas of bringing any reform in the sector. Both of them were against the issues which I have referred to earlier. I don’t think they had any valid arguments but in the case of coal block allocations, they were of the view that it would increase the cost of coal and cost of power. In respect of e-auctions, I don’t know (if) they had (any) particular views but they were simply not clearing the files.

Did these ministers repeatedly make suggestions that were against the rules?

Yes. In the issue of coal block allocation, the prime minster had taken a view that yes, we must go ahead with the bidding. But Soren came back as Cabinet minister and said he is not in agreement with the bidding (route). The Cabinet minister had the audacity to reverse the decisions which were taken by the prime minister. It was repeated. The prime minister had agreed with eauction of coal and Soren reversed the decision.

How did working with PM Manmohan Singh (as coal minister) compare with these two gentlemen?

Whatever little I could do in the coal ministry was because of the support which I got from the prime minister. He initially approved these ideas of going through the bidding route for coal block allocation or putting coal marketing through e-auctions, or bringing some transparency in the appointment of chief executives to coal companies. Whatever could be done was done only because the prime minister became the coal minister. Otherwise, nothing would have been possible. In fact, it was a sea change between working with Soren and the prime minister. The prime minister had no axe to grind. So, whatever proposals I made, he approved all those proposals. I had a very smooth relationship with the prime minister as coal minister and every proposal I made he approved.

We have been told by sources that a shadow screening committee consisting of functionaries of the ruling party used to decide who would get what? What is your reaction?

You see, as long as I was secretary in the ministry, there was no extraneous factor in taking decisions on coal block allocations. Every allocation was threadbare discussed in the screening committee and every decision to my mind was taken in a very objective manner. Now, all these things which are being talked about are of post-2006 and not pre-2006. All allocations, which had been criticised by CAG in its reports, all relate to 2006 onwards, post my retirement. There is not one case which has been referred by CAG which relate to the period I was the secretary. CAG reports say after 2006 there was no system. I cannot comment on it.

The PM’s decision as coal minister is based on Kumar Mangalam Birla’s representation and the Naveen Patnaik letter. Both points of view had already been considered by the screening committee and found wanting. Did you tell the PM that the screening committee had already examined these aspects?

Everything is on record. You see, (in the) screening committee when it discussed that subject, the state government’s view was that it should be given to Hindalco. I recall the power ministry had no particular view because Hindalco was also putting up a power plant and Neyveli was also putting up a power plant. So, the decision to prefer Neyveli over Hindalco was by-and-large mine because Neyveli was my own ministry’s company and Neyveli was sitting on a pile of money not knowing what to do with. Had I proposed to fully allot that block to Hindalco, based on the recommendation of the state government, nobody would have found fault in that decision. The block could have entirely been given to Hindalco. Because (of) my little bias in favour of my own ministry’s company, it reflected (in the) decision in favour of Neyveli. Now, when Birla made a representation to the prime minister and also met me and made a representation, his point was that in what manner their (Hindalco’s) claim was inferior to that of Neyveli? They said they were equally competent financially, and have technical competence and have a power project for which they needed coal. Simply because they (Hindalco) are a private company and Neyveli is a government company, it was not fair to discriminate between two companies. They also said they were the earlier applicant where the application was made many years before Neyveli. On reconsideration, I felt that yes, there is logic in what they are saying and, therefore, the matter needs to be relooked at. Now many people, including CBI, has raised the point that why did I not go back to the screening committee before revising my decision. A screening committee is not a statutory decision-making body. It is basically a recommendatory body. I was party to what all was deliberated in the screening committee. I knew the views of different members in the screening committee. Since I was aware of the state government and the power ministry’s view, and since Neyveli’s preference was entirely my decision, there was no need to go back to the screening committee. I was aware of views of all the other members of the screening committee. So, since I thought that there was merit in Birla’s argument, I clearly recorded what the reasons for the change in the recommendation were. Both the decisions were before the prime minister and the prime minister finally took a view that Birla’s representation had merit and it should be given consideration. That’s why we included both Hindalco and Neyveli with 50:50 share in the block.

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