Millennium Post

Diversionary tactics?

A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. It would be apt to say that the case against Manmohan Singh in the coal blocks allocation scam case is a red herring-if there ever was one. This is because the case against him has no prosecutorial potential. It is likely that beyond appearing in court and raising his hand in solemn attendance, Manmohan Singh won’t have to do much. And that includes speaking up, considering that he is a man of few words. In order to understand why the case will go nowhere in a court of law we have to first recollect the series of events which led to the present day scenario. The chronology of events go something like this: There was to be a preset allocation of coal blocks in Odisha’s Jharsuguda district in 2005.

The blocks were originally allocated by the Screening Committee, which was chaired by then Coal Secretary PC Parakh, who also happens to be an accused in the case, along with Kumar Mangalam Birla. The coal blocks were originally allocated to the public sector Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd and Neyveli Lignite Corporation. But Birla wrote a letter to Singh seeking his intervention. Singh subsequently directed him back to the coal ministry. After endless lobbying on Birla’s part the allocation patterns were allegedly changed to favour Hindalco. In the process the government owned Neyveli Corporation ended up losing a lion’s share of its allocation.

Now it is hard to discern whether Singh acceded to Birla’s lobbying and changed the allocation pattern in good faith or whether he acted with some ulterior motive in his mind. A politician-especially the Prime Minister, which Singh was at the time this decision was taken, has to constantly seek to balance public interests with those of conflicting private interests. It is probable that the case against Singh will eventually lose steam because it is difficult to ascertain malafide intent on his part and moreover legal evidence against him is negligible. By summoning him to court the move will be seen as a political witch hunt rather than an attempt to bring the guilty to books. As the draft CAG report mentioned it is difficult to ascertain who the real beneficiaries were of the changed allocation pattern.

According to the report the only sin of omission Singh’s government can be held culpable of-is its refusal to auction the coal blocks in the open market. This likely caused the exchequer substantial losses. Be that as it may by focusing the spotlight on Singh the prosecution has shifted attention away from the real scamsters-whoever they may be. It’s unfortunate that for much of his political career Singh served as a scapegoat for the collective failings of his government. It is even more unfortunate that now he finds himself serving as a red herring.

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