New Delhi: Former coal secretary P.C. Parakh says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s authority in determining the process by which coal blocks should be allocated was undermined by former coal minister Shibu Soren and minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao.

In his book Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other Truths, released on Monday, Parakh writes that his (Parakh’s) proposal to adopt a policy of open competitive bidding for auctioning coal blocks for captive use was “killed" by Soren, the then coal minister, even after Singh approved it on 20 August 2004.

The book also says that Rao “tried to scuttle" the proposal before Soren finally killed it. Parakh has also blamed several members of Parliament, including industrialist Naveen Jindal, for scuttling the move.

Parakh’s book comes close on the heels of one by Sanjaya Baru, a former media adviser to the Prime Minister, in which he wrote that Singh’s authority had been undermined by Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other party and ministerial colleagues. The Prime Minister’s office (PMO) has denied those claims.

Coalfield allocations came under the scanner in August 2012 when the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) submitted a report in Parliament, alleging a notional loss of 1.86 trillion to the exchequer because of irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks.

The report traced the loss to the fact that the blocks had been allocated on a first-come-first-served basis rather than via the competitive bidding route.

“On the 20th August 2004, the Prime Minister approved allocation through open bidding. He wanted a cabinet note on this," Parakh writes. “After the Prime Minister’s approval, we received a note from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), enumerating the possible problems in moving to open bidding. It is understood that this note from the PMO was based on an unsigned note given by the MoS (minister of state, referring to Rao) to the PMO. Simultaneously, a number of letters started pouring in from members of parliament opposing the proposed move towards the bidding system. This included one from Mr. Naveen Jindal, who had considerable interests in coal mining."

Parakh says in the 288-page book that even after this, when the proposal on open bidding was revived, Rao succeed in “derailing" it.

In response to a question about Parakh’s reference to several MPs including him opposing the move towards a bidding system, Jindal said over the phone, “I don’t know what he (Parakh) has been talking about. I did use to have a view that setting up an industry with a captive coal block has more value addition for the country rather than by auctioning them."

Rao and Soren could not immediately be reached for comment.

In the book, Parakh has also taken on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and its director Ranjit Sinha. CBI is investigating all coal block allocations between 1993 and 2010.

On 13 October, CBI filed a first information report (FIR) against Parakh and Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of the Aditya Birla Group, as well as its group company Hindalco Industries Ltd, in the case related to the allotment of the Talabira-II coalfield in the Jharsuguda district of Odisha, a part of which was allocated to Hindalco in 2005.

CBI booked Birla and Parakh of “criminal conspiracy" in the case. Parakh and other government officials were accused of abusing their official positions “to show favours to" Hindalco.

“To my mind the entire approach of the CBI in investigating the coal scam is faulty. The CAG’s report that prompted these investigations underlines the fact that unduly long delay in switching over to a transparent bidding system led to the coal scam," Parakh writes.

Parakh goes on to say that if Sinha was “convinced that the Hindalco allocation was a conspiracy and had he the courage of conviction, he ought to have named the Prime Minister in the FIR".

“We can reply to all the accusations point by point but since the case is being monitored by the Supreme Court, I will not say anything," Press Trust of India cited Sinha as saying.

Commenting on his book being released soon after Baru’s book, Parakh said that his book had not intentionally been for release now. “I began writing this book a long while back. I did not know when Baru’s book was coming," he said.

Former chief information commissioner of India Satyananda Mishra supported the trend of former bureaucrats writing books. “Anyone who can and wants to write a book should write. Unless secrets related to the defence of the country are compromised, what’s the harm in writing a book?"

Regarding the timing of the publication of books by Parakh and Baru, Mishra said, “It is the publisher’s prerogative when to publish a book. Who would be interested in it later?"

In his book, Parakh has attached copies of several confidential letters, including correspondence between him as the coal secretary and various arms of the government and members of Parliament.

On the question of the Official Secrets Act being raised by the government on Baru’s book, Mishra quipped, “Sanjaya Baru is not a civil servant."

Arguing similarly, former coal secretaries Alok Perti and C. Balakrishnan said more bureaucrats should write their memoirs.

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