A duffer's guide to CAG, Coal and the BJP

Ranjona BanerjiI have tried — maybe like so many other Indians — to understand this whole CAG and coal thing. First, you have to comprehend CAG. I’m one of those people who cannot get a word of what their chartered accountant says to them except for sign here and pay this much which is also another way of saying sign here. So to take on the Comptroller and Auditor General is no mean task. Actually, I still don’t know what a comptroller is except that is sounds like a character from some 19th century British murder mystery (Tea in the Conservatory with the Comptroller?) but since I somewhat know what an auditor is, I’m going along with that.

coal scam
In a different league: The coal scam, it turns out, is a whole other kettle of fish from the 2G spectrum scam

I do know that CAG has done many wonderful things like told us all about the 2G spectrum scam. Now you’re going to think, this is a bit of a fraud. You’re claiming you don’t understand CAG and coal but you understand CAG and spectrum, come on! No one understands spectrum, especially those gullible people who actually thought their mobile and internet connectivity was going to get faster. Well, all right, I don’t know anything about spectrum but I do know that finding out about the scam was a good thing.

But coal it turns out is a whole other kettle of fish than spectrum. Not just because it’s black, dirty, bad for the environment and can both become diamonds as well as cook tandoori chicken and paneer unlike spectrum which is invisible. But because… well, that’s the question: why? For one, it is needed to electrify all those parts of India left out in the dark. Money-making is not the only or everyone’s goal here. Then, apart from the power industry (some to make money and some to not), it also has to go to steel and cement industries. So it’s not like the spectrum scam — what allegedly went into Raja’s pocket, you pay through your mobile bill. Or is it?

The coal belongs not just to the government of India (ie, us) but also to the various states where the coal is found (again ie, us). This means that the Centre and the states both have a say in where the coal goes, how it goes and to whom it goes. Since 1993, the coal has been “allocated” in blocks (in other words, given away) for some amount of money which is considerably less than if the coal had been sold to the highest bidder in an auction.

After this, my mind fried up like a piece of coal in a steam engine.

These are the questions I have:

Item 1: Who made money they shouldn’t have?
Item 2: If no one did, what’s the fuss about?
Item 3: Why is all the coal still apparently lying in “mother earth”?
Item 4: Is the fact that there’s not enough electricity connected to this?
Item 5: Does anyone actually know what’s going on?

And as I sat down and thought about those questions and especially as I ran out of steam, I realised why the Bharatiya Janata Party is behaving the way it is. It doesn’t understand CAG and coal any more than I do —and even more importantly, it doesn’t want to. The whole thing is really boring. It may be important but it’s boring. To read through the prime minister’s statement and make sense of it, you have to trawl through sentences like this: “CAG has computed financial gains to private parties as being difference between the average sale price and production cost of CIL based of the estimated extractable reserves of the allocated coal blocks”. After five words, your eyes are closing and soft, grunting noises are emerging from your mouth.

It is much better therefore to have a tamasha. Stop Parliament, demand resignations left, right and centre, talk about “mota maal” and “kala dhan”. Anything to save the people of the India from the boredom of understanding what’s going on.

Yet, strangely enough, even though they’re thinking of me, I’m not thanking the BJP. Are you?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona 

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