The spectre of corruption was back to haunt the government yesterday with a combative opposition demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the official auditor’s report that irregularities in coal block allocation led to notional losses of Rs 1.85 lakh crore.
Both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day as the BJP-led opposition put the prime minister firmly in the dock over the Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report tabled last week.
Though the report states that lack of transparency in the allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in massive losses to the exchequer as on March 11 last year, it does not directly indict the prime minister or his office. But during the time these mining blocks in question were allotted —between July 2004 and May 2009 — the coal portfolio was mostly held by him.
The BJP was quick to seize the initiative and declared that parliament would not be allowed to function till Manmohan Singh resigned. The government dismissed as absurd the demand for the prime minister’s resignation and offered a debate in parliament but the Opposition remained unconvinced.
“We have demanded the prime minister’s resignation and we are serious about it,” said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad. “This is not the only incident of corruption. There is the 2G scam, the 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. As political tensions escalated through the day, the government tried to hit back by asking why the Opposition was shying away from a debate.
“We are prepared for a detailed discussion and then we will see what happens. 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 on the issue of coal block allocations? We are ready to discuss the issue,” said Minister of State in the PMO V Narayanasamy. He added that 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 NDA government of giving away 24 coal blocks in 2003 arbitrarily without even inviting applications from private players.
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