Coal scandal smoulders, ‘PM quit’ chorus grows louder


New Delhi : The spectre of corruption was back to haunt the government Tuesday with a combative opposition demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation over the official auditor’s report that irregularities in coal block allocation led to notional losses of Rs.1.85 lakh crore ($37 billion).

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Both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies put the prime minister in the dock over the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report tabled last week.

Opposition MPs refused to let the house conduct its business, leading to angry exchanges between them and the treasury benches. Eventually, both houses were adjourned for the day before lunch.

Singh was unwilling to oblige the opposition by resigning but offered a debate on the CAG report in parliament.

Though the report states that lack of transparency in the allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in massive losses to the exchequer, it does not directly indict the prime minister or his office. But during the time the mining blocks were allotted, the coal portfolio was mostly held by Manmohan Singh — between July 2004 and May 2009.

The BJP declared that parliament would not be allowed to function till Manmohan Singh quit. The government dismissed as absurd the demand for the resignation and offered a debate.

“We have demanded the prime minister’s resignation and we are serious about it,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

“This is not the only incident of corruption. There is the 2G scam, Commonwealth Games scam, airport public-private-partnership scam… Manmohan Singh’s government is the government of corruption and loot.

“The obligation to run parliament is not ours,” he added.

Communist Party of India’s Gurudas Dasgupta also said the prime minister should go — if his conscience said so.

Singh, who was present in the Rajya Sabha but did not speak, told the media that the government was ready for any debate and give satisfactory answers to all issues.

“We are ready for any debate,” he said. “We can give satisfactory answers to all issues.”

As political tensions escalated through the day, the government tried to hit back by asking why the opposition was shying away from a debate.

“They (BJP) want to create a situation of crisis but people should know the truth and what is their (BJP) role in the coal allocation scam,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.

“Why is the opposition shying away from a debate? We are ready to discuss the issue,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) V. Narayanasamy told IANS.

Narayanasamy said the CAG report would now be examined by the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) headed by the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi.

Slamming the party for trying to score political points by disrupting parliament without waiting for the PAC report, he said: “This is only a presumptive loss (of Rs.1.86 lakh crore) and not the actual figure.”

He also charged the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government with giving away 24 coal blocks in 2003 arbitrarily without even inviting applications from private players.

The trouble, it seemed, was only beginning, with the latest political crisis unlikely to die down soon.

“The house is not likely to function for the whole week, possibly even the whole session, if our concerns are not addressed. We are firm on the demand for the prime minister’s resignation,” a BJP leader told IANS.