Indian PM says ready to be questioned by police over alleged coal scam

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Russia on Oct. 20, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AP
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Russia on Oct. 20, 2013. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he is happy to be questioned by police over an alleged coal scam amid growing speculation he will be called to give evidence.

Last week, police named leading industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary P.C. Parakh as suspects in their probe into the allocation of coal mining rights.

Singh approved the deal under investigation, which enabled Birla's Hindalco company to mine from a state-owned block in 2005, but he said it was done according to the rules and without prejudice.

"I am not above the law of the land," Singh told journalists aboard his plane as he returned from a visit to Russia and China on Thursday night.

"If there is anything that the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) or for that matter anyone, wants to ask, I have nothing to hide," he said, according to a transcript.

He has rejected repeated calls from the opposition for him to step down.

Indian media quoted a letter on Friday from coal secretary Parakh in 2005 complaining about then coal minister Shibu Soren in which he said a "coal mafia" existed in the ministry.

Softly-spoken Singh, promoted to the top job owing to his reputation as "Mr Clean" and a successful stint as a reformist finance minister in the 1990s, has seen his public image battered in recent years.

His coalition government, dominated by the left-leaning Congress party, has been beset by a string of corruption cases since re-election in 2009 and is set to struggle in national polls next year.

While speaking to journalists, Singh also expressed disappointment with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif after the two men agreed in New York last month to restore calm on their border following months of tension.

Senior Indian army figures told AFP this week that recent firing over the disputed border in Kashmir and the recognised international border further south was the worst since the countries signed a ceasefire in 2003.

"We had agreed at that meeting that the ceasefire which was made effective in 2003, if it has held ground for 10 years, it could be made to hold ground later on also," Singh said.

"The fact that this is not happening, is something which is really a matter of disappointment."