Millennium Post

No scam like coalgate

Protests by the principle opposition parties against what has been labelled coalgate, has disrupted Parliament. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in particular, seems adamant not to allow debate on the issue in Parliament though it appears keen on a national debate. The BJP has stuck to its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation on the coal scam saying it will not let Parliament function till he demits office owning up responsibility. Political parties have the right to protest this issue but not allowing Parliament to function may not be the best way to do so. The government, on its part, has tried to obfuscate the issue by propounding the zero loss theory through finance minister P Chidambaram who has made the preposterous claim that there was zero loss because no coal had been mined. It must be said that Chidambaram is wrong for, as the Opposition alleges, it was the government which allocated the coal blocks and, with the right to mining now resting with the private allottees, the government has lost control of these mines at a throwaway price. Therefore the claim that there was no loss does not really work. It does not work for another reason for it is the procedure of allocation of the coal blocks that is under the scanner, for the coal blocks were not auctioned after bidding but were instead allotted without auction. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has estimated a Rs 1.86 lakh crore gain to private firms in the allocation of  the 57 coal blocks. This is a huge sum indeed. If correctly arrived at, these figures will make coalgate one of the biggest scams of independent India. Even if one were to assume that there are some errors in the manner in which the CAG has arrived at these figures, nonetheless, the people of the country are entitled to some answers on the issue.

The fact that these allotments were made under the watch of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself during the period the coal portfolio was under him, only adds to the gravity of the matter. The government, therefore, has a lot to answer for. Having said this, it is also true that no political party in the country has been entirely aboveboard when it comes to the allotment of natural resources. The BJP, amongst others, has found itself involved in similar scams, with the approximately Rs 16,085 crore mining scam in Karnataka still fresh in the public mind. There is, therefore, a clear need to frame a policy on how natural resources are to be allotted and distributed. This policy must be transparent, so that these can be no mischief, and it must ensure the allocation of natural resources in the best interests of country. Till such a time such a policy is adopted, scams like coalgate will abound.
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