It demands cancellation of coal blocks allotments

DELHI: With the entire Opposition united on the demand for cancellation of 142 coal block allocations made from 2006 as a condition for allowing Parliament to function, the ball is now in the court of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

There was no indication from UPA managers what could be the government’s response. Prior to BJP leader Sushma Swaraj’s disclosure that the party was not insisting on the resignation of Dr. Singh, the government’s stand was that there was no question of scrapping the licences.

The UPA leaders concede that the united voice of the Opposition has put the government in a fix. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, who went abroad on Saturday for a routine medical check-up, is believed to have briefed Dr. Singh on the fresh demands of the BJP and left it to him to take a call.

Parliament was disrupted the whole of last week after the CAG report on coal blocks allocation was tabled. The report had said the delay in implementation of the policy on allotments by bidding had cost the exchequer a presumptive loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh-crore.

Admission by Union Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahay that he had recommended allocation of two coal blocks to a company in which his brother is an honourable Executive Director has given more ammunition to the Opposition, which has been saying that senior government functionaries attempted to influence the process through the Prime Minister.

Late on Saturday night, Ms. Swaraj tweeted that the BJP would allow normal functioning of Parliament even if its demand for resignation was not met immediately, provided the government cancelled the allocations and ordered an impartial probe.

Though the BJP, for the record, is insisting that it has not dropped its demand for Dr. Singh’s resignation, the nuanced shift in the position is in line with the stand taken by the Left parties, the Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party.

At a news conference in Mumbai, Ms. Swaraj asserted that the BJP had not given up the resignation demand.

At a press conference in Kanpur, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal spoke of possible cancellation of coal block licences of those companies which had failed to fulfil their contractual obligations.

Advani’s stand

Senior BJP leader L.K. Advani on his blog echoed what Ms. Swaraj had said on Saturday. “The NDA has offered to resolve the deadlock if all the allotments made are cancelled and the process whereby the screening committee has decided these allocations is subjected to a judicial probe. The government is not yet prepared for this.”

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