Now, government sees ‘zero loss’ in coal too

NEW DELHI, 24/08/2012 : Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram flanked by Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Law Minister Salman Khursheed, addressing the media, in New Delhi on August 24, 2012. Photo: V. Sudershan   | Photo Credit: V_Sudershan

Upset by the "unreasonable" disruption of Parliament by the BJP on the issue of allocation of coal blocks and CAG report on the process, the government on Friday went on the offensive terming the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s concept of presumptive loss as "totally flawed" maintaining that no loss had taken place as the coal being referred to is still unexploited.

"The policy for allocation of the coal blocks has been the same since 1993. The NDA government also allocated coal blocks under the same policy. In fact, the UPA I brought more transparency in the process in 2004 and further tried to fine tune the policy to make it more transparent by initiating the process of competitive bidding. But I deeply regret the presumptive loss concept as it is totally flawed. If coal is not mined, where is the loss? The loss will only occur if coal is sold at a certain price or under valued,’’ Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told a joint press conference along with Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Law and Justice Minister Salman Khurshid.

Parliament continued to be disrupted for the fourth consecutive day with the BJP demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the CAG report's adverse observations on the allocation of coal blocks during 2004-09.

In an indication that the government was taking the battle to the opposition’s camp, Mr. Chidambaram charged the opposition, mainly the BJP, for not allowing Parliament to function and unwilling to discuss the debate the issue. "We urge the opposition to come back to the House on Monday and let the Prime Minister make a statement which could be followed by a debate. We are ready for debate anytime. The Prime Minister has not been allowed to make a statement which is very disappointing. I once again make a fervent appeal to opposition to come back and debate in the House," Mr. Chidambaram said.

Mr. Chidambaram, who did majority of the talking during the press conference, said the UPA was being unnecessarily targeted for following procedures adopted by the governments since 1993. Interestingly, he pointed out that out of a total of 57 coal blocks taken for audit by CAG, only one is being mined and rest are still unexploited. "I think, thanks to rising prosperity in the country over the last few years, we are all enamoured about the numbers which run into six digits and nine digits," he added.

Mr. Chidambaram said what was even more shocking is that UPA was being attacked for taking the initiative for putting in place a new transparent way of allocating coal blocks by amending the law. "A government which brought about, although after some time, a successful change in policy is being blamed for continuation of a policy that had its origin many years before the UPA came into being. So, if you did nothing, you are not to be blamed. If you try to bring about a change, you are to be blamed. Is that the standard by which we will conduct our public affairs," he remarked.

Taking about the delay in effecting a change in policy, Mr. Chidambaram said majority of the coal bearing state governments had opposed auction of coal blocks. "The Centre could have changed the procedure by an executive order but decided not to because that would have amounted to riding roughshod over the States," he said.

Asked about government’s strategy on dealing with the current impasse, Mr. Chidambaram said: "Our strategy has been largely determined by one word — patience. We have been extremely patient. If you demand the Prime Minister's resignation, then I don't think you can demand any thing more. They (the BJP) have pitched the demand so high, demanding the Prime Minister's resignation. They should show the Prime Minister the courtesy to listen to his statement. If the Prime Minister is not allowed to make a statement in Parliament on Monday, the government will have to find a way how Prime Minister can speak to the people. We are making a small attempt to speak."

The Finance Minister said the government was not running away from debate. "It is a sad depiction of Parliamentary democracy we cannot say these things on the floor of the House, we have to create a platform to bring facts to public domain," he regretted.

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