Coal scandal smoulders, ‘PM quit’ chorus grows louder (Evening Lead)

August 21st, 2012 - 7:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh New Delhi, Aug 21 (IANS) The spectre of corruption was back to haunt the government Tuesday 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 ($37 billion).

Both houses of parliament were adjourned for the day as the Bharatiya Janata Party (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, the coal portfolio was mostly held by him — between July 2004 and May 2009.

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 was unconvinced.

“We have demanded the prime minister’s resignation and we are serious about it,” BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters.

“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 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,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) V. Narayanasamy told IANS.

Narayanasamy said 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 National Democratic Alliance government of giving away 24 coal blocks in 2003 arbitrarily without even inviting applications from private players.

The trouble, it seemed, was only beginning with the latest political crisis unlikely to die down anytime soon.

“The house is not likely to function for the whole week, possibly even the whole session, if our concerns are not addressed. We are firm on the demand for the prime minister’s resignation,” a BJP leader told IANS.

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