Chhattisgarh government indicted for favouring firm in award of coal block
The Congress on Tuesday demanded the resignation of Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh, citing the contents of a Comptroller and Auditor General's report that has indicted the State government for flouting norms in the award of a coal block to a firm owned by recently elected Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Sancheti who, the party said, is “close to BJP president Nitin Gadkari.” Interestingly, even BJP sources suggest that the two men have business dealings.
On Tuesday, Congress general secretary in-charge of Chhattisgarh B.K. Hariprasad, wheeled in the party's legislature party leader Ravindra Choubey and president in the State Nand Kumar Patel for a press conference here to highlight the CAG report, underscoring the fact that Mr. Raman Singh holds both the mining and power portfolios.
Mr. Hariprasad pointed out that while the BJP had, in Parliament, blocked proceedings demanding a discussion of leaked CAG reports on a range of issues, in Chhattisgarh, it had dismissed the CAG report as being of doubtful veracity.
He said: “It's a case of double standards. In Delhi, you demand discussions on CAG reports in Parliament. In Raipur, you don't allow them to be discussed. This is the height of shamelessness.”
For the Congress, which lost power in the State in 2003, the damning CAG report and the link between the beneficiaries of the scam and the BJP president and the State Chief Minister have come as manna from heaven, prompting the party to bring its battle to Delhi, hoping this will be the turning point in the run-up to the next Assembly polls in end-2013.
For Mr. Gadkari, under whose presidency the party has fared poorly electorally, the Chhattisgarh scam — and its possible link with him — has come at a bad time: this could cast a shadow over his chances of being re-elected president, when his term ends in December.
‘Open cast mine'
Meanwhile, the BJP sought to cover its embarrassment by disputing the veracity of the CAG report: the party's chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told journalists here that Bhadgaon II Extension — the coal block in question — is an open cast mine where mining costs less. “It is a part open and part underground mine. It is also near a river and so a wall has to be built to work as a dam to keep out the water,” he said.
Responding to the Congress attack on the BJP, Mr. Prasad said, “We will not engage in the kind of campaign that the Congress is involved in. These allegations are baseless. We understand the worries of the Congress. They are involved in so many scams. But they should also learn a little about how to read and write.”
On the key question whether Mr. Sancheti and Mr. Gadkari are business partners, Mr. Prasad's answer was ambivalent: he said a leader from any party can also be a businessman, provided his dealings are transparent. He then added, “Neither was Gadkari president then [in 2008 when the tender was allotted] nor was Sancheti an MP. Gadkari was BJP Maharashtra unit president. He became BJP president one and-a-half years later in 2010.”