Special Court Judge Bharat Parashar, who is holding trial of cases rooted in coal block allocation scam, on March 11 summoned Manmohan Singh as an accused for allocating Talabira II coal block in Orissa to Hindalco in 2005.
Besides the former prime minister, the court also summoned Birla and then coal secretary P.C. Parakh under offences of criminal conspiracy and breach of trust of the Indian Penal Code, and provisions of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
In his plea, Birla contended that making a representation for seeking a share in combined coal block was not illegal as the prime minister was exercising his discretion, which could at best be arbitrary but cannot be described as criminal in the absence of any material.
"The impugned order holds that the allocation was violative of law and of the rule of law. It fails to identify any statute, rule or even a regulation that was violated. It proceeds on the premise that a departure from a guideline (applicable to the Screening Committee) by the prime minister is a per se a violation of the rule of law - a proposition that is contrary to the settled law on the subject," reads his petition.
"The guidelines incidentally did not - as they could not - impinge on the discretion of the Prime Minister's Office in dealings with these matters - they did not purport to constrain the powers of the prime minister," the petition said. It argued that the "existence of powers of the prime minister under rules of business and the role of a prime minister in a Westminster model of parliament" escaped the notice of the special court judge. Defending the decision taken by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the petition by Birla said: "The final decision arrived at by the prime minister was based on his assessment of the right balance between the interest of the state government and that of a central public sector undertaking. The state government felt it would subserve public interest if an allotment was made to Hindalco, and the prime minster partly agreed with this assessment."