With ‘coalgate' leaving a bitter taste in the UPA's mouth, government managers are bracing themselves for the possibility that the final report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General on coal allotments between 2004 and 2009 will retain the damaging charge that private companies got undue benefits running into tens of thousands of crores of rupees.

Pulok Chatterji, the Prime Minister's principal secretary, opted out of Manmohan Singh's visit to Seoul, and has been tasked with devising a suitable response to the charge that the failure to put in place a policy for auctioning coal blocks soon after the UPA first came to power in May 2004 has led to large, but unquantified, revenue losses.

One option the government is looking at is for the Prime Minister himself to make a statement in Parliament, urging that the audit process not be politicised. PMO officials are asking why the period of the coal audit overlaps with the UPA's tenure in power when preferential allotments were made even earlier.

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