Slugfest over Coalgate brings House to a halt

The Coalgate sparked off a political storm on Tuesday with the BJP demanding Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s resignation and the combined Opposition stalling both the Houses of Parliament.

Unfazed by the Opposition onslaught, the Congress hardened its stand, alleging that the BJP and Left chief ministers had earlier opposed auctioning of coal blocks. With both the camps refusing to budge, Parliament is unlikely to function even on Wednesday.

No business was transacted on Tuesday and from the word go, NDA members stormed the well shouting slogans to pin down the government on the basis of the CAG reports — focusing on allocations of coal blocks that the federal auditor says benefited private operators by ` 1.86 lakh crore.

Storm: The Opposition stalled both houses of parliament over the CAG report on the coal scam but the Centre refused to budge

Storm: The Opposition stalled both houses of parliament over the CAG report on the coal scam but the Centre refused to budge

The BJP- led NDA demanded the Prime Minister’s resignation, while Left parties wanted the government to spell out its stand on the three CAG reports.

The Congress managers said the government is ready to discuss the issue threadbare in Parliament and if need be the PM will clarify. They alleged that the Opposition was stalling the House as they didn’t want a debate. The Congress vehemently rejected the CAG’s findings as a “ bizarre accounting exercise”. “ If scams keep happening with such regularity, we owe it to the people to demand the PM’s resignation,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said. He claimed that the Congress alibi of shifting the blame on states was completely untenable and motivated.

Unnerved by the index of Opposition unity, the Congress fielded as many as eight Union ministers and several spokespersons to mount counter- attack on the BJP. The government is preparing to stonewall the Opposition, not only disagreeing with the CAG’s conclusions but also arguing the reports must first be examined by Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. The government is correct on procedure, but the Opposition is unlikely to let go of an opportunity to yell “ scam”. Union ministers Sushil Kumar Shinde, Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal, Pawan Kumar Bansal, Ambika Soni, Sriprakash Jaiswal, Rajeev Shukla and V. Narayanasamy, all spoke to the media trashing the BJP’s “ absurd demand” of the PM’s resignation.

Congress spokespersons Manish Tewari, Renuka Chowhdry and Lok Sabha MP Jagadambika Pal also lambasted the Opposition for stalling Parliament. Chowdhry said the decisions on coal block allocations were taken in consultations with states and the BJP had governments in many of them. “ No state government was sidelined when these coal blocks were allocated. No objection of any chief secretary of the states were by- passed... This is nothing but propaganda fuelled politically... in the thirst for power, the Opposition parties are side- stepping these issues,” she said.

Government sources said the erstwhile Rajasthan government, headed by the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje, had told the Centre that the proposal to change over to the auction route was against the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission on the Centre- state ties.

“Our PM can never do anything wrong. And if anyone levels such allegations against the PM, there is no correctness ( or) facts in this,” telecom minister Kapil Sibal said. He added that the coal- rich states of Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Odissa, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh, where the Congress was not in power, had opposed allocation of coal mines to private firms through competitive bidding or auction.

Asked if it was true that some fly- by- night operators benefited by allocation of captive blocks, he said the CBI was looking into the matter and nobody is going to be spared, if there is any deviation.