Congress rejects call for cancelling coal blocks


New Delhi : Rejecting the opposition’s demand for cancelling allocation of coal blocks, the Congress Wednesday said it had never spoken against the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of “destroying democracy”.

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The Congress also slammed the BJP for repeatedly stalling parliament over its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation.

Communications Minister Kapil Sibal said the BJP was finding fault with coal block allocations made during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule, but the process adopted by the earlier National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government lacked transparency.

“The thinking that killed Mahatma Gandhi, the same thinking is destroying democracy. Break the country, come to power. (We) urge (the BJP) for debate in parliament. If we are wrong, put us in the dock. Ask questions, get answers,” Sibal said at the official briefing of the Congress.

He said the UPA government had laid out “very exhaustive” guidelines for allocation of coal blocks in 2006.

He accused the BJP of using intemperate language against the CAG on some of its reports during the NDA’s rule.

Sibal said that Arun Shourie, who was a minister during the NDA regime, had termed the CAG’s methodology of computing notional losses as “idiotic”. He added that former defence minister George Fernandes had accused the country’s chief auditor of acting “unethically”.

Sibal alleged that BJP leader Arun Jaitley had made caustic remarks following the CAG report on the “coffin scam” and said that the “CAG does not go to war, army generals do”.

“I challenge we have not used such words. We may disagree (with the CAG). Do not forget history Mr. Jaitley, it can cause you problems,” Sibal said.

Rejecting the demand of the BJP and Left parties for cancellation of allocated coal blocks, Sibal said thousands of crores of investments have been made and planned by private players who had been allocated coal blocks and 70 percent of the project costs came from bank loans.

“(The opposition is saying) cancel it. Finish the private sector,” Sibal said, and added that the process involved “complex economic issues.”

He said the coal cannot be sold from allocated blocks but used for specified end use such as power, steel or cement production.

“If it can’t be sold, what kind of profit can be earned (from it)?” Sibal asked.

The minister said power and steel were capital intensive projects and an investment of Rs.50,000 crore was needed to produce 10,000 MW of electricity.

He said state electricity boards would have a say in determining the cost of electricity produced by using coal from allocated blocks.

“There will be tax on profits, royalty on coal mining. Where is the cheating?” he questioned.

Sibal said power production potential was not being realised as some plants were facing shortage of coal.

He said imported coal will cost thrice as much as coal extracted within the country and will increase the cost of steel and power.

Sibal, however, said the government will not overlook any wrongdoing on the part of those who had been allocated coal blocks and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was looking into six such cases.

He said the UPA was the only government which had taken action against ministers on allegations of corruption.