Monday, September 10, 2012

Coal scam story moves beyond C&AG, Cong and BJP

New Delhi: The coal scam story has moved on even as the BJP and the Congress, with cameo roles by Left parties and the Samajwadi Party (SP), were fighting a political duel in press conferences and in TV studios in the last three weeks and work stopped in parliament. It has moved even beyond the C&AG's performance audit of coal block allocations.

The CBI raids on Tuesday against some of the private players who have been allocated coal blocks and the ongoing Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) review and its report expected by the middle of this month will throw up more dirt than the dust kicked by the opposition parties. The irregularities in the allocations to specific private players is the crux of the coal scam.

The C&AG report placed on the table of the two Houses of parliament by the government on August 17 unleashed a politcal storm with the main opposition party, the BJP, demanding the resignation of prime minister Manmohan Singh “owning up moral responsibility”.

The BJP harped on the Rs. 1.86 lakh crore loss figure that the C&AG computed and the consequent windfall gains to the private players, the central government's failure to adopt auction insteads of allotment through screening committees. This, after the UPA took a cabinet decision to go for auction and even brought in the necessary legislation.

The BJP argued that this was done because of the ulterior motive to favour private players close to the government, an example of crony capitalism. For the BJP, the loss figure – Rs.1.86 lakh crore was a powerful stick to beat the government with along with the Rs.176 lakh crore loss that the C&AG had in another report computed in the first-cum-first-served 2G spectrum allocation.

Congress countered saying that it was the BJP-ruled and other opposition-ruled – Odisha and West Bengal -- state governments and chief ministers who had opposed the auction option. Finance minister P.Chidambaram argued that the loss figure was fictional because the coal was not mined from the allocated blocks and traded. “The coal remained within Mother Earth,” he asserted. Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said that the C&AG was wrong in its calculations and he had even asserted that getting a coal mining was not like starting a restaurant. Prime minister Manmohan Singh made a detailed, technical rebuttal of the C&AG's conclusions in a statement he placed on the table of the two Houses of parliament.

The high falutin arguments have become irrelevant. The coal scandal is unravelling with the raids that the CBI had conducted against some of the private players who were allotted blocks based on false information they provided. The Chief Vigilance Commission (CVC) had asked the CBI to look into the issue based on a complaint filed by BJP legislators Hansraj Ahir and Prakash Jawadekar. The raids have revealed the murky details about the allocations. Then there is the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG), which is looking into the allocations and how the allottees have not kept their contractual obligations. It is the findings of the CBI and the IMG that are likely to damage the government's reputation more than the findings of the C&AG report and the rhetoric and street protests of the BJP. It is the scrutiny of the CBI and IMG that will put the government on the mat.

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