New Delhi, Aug. 29: The Centre has rejected the demand of the BJP and the Left to cancel coal block allotments, contending that such a move will destroy the economic structure and impair the power, steel and cement sectors.
Union minister Kapil Sibal today said only six out of the 57 blocks examined by the CAG were being investigated by the CBI and action would be taken against wrongdoers. He added that there was nothing scandalous about the allocation process and hence there was no question of reversing the decision.
The government’s aggressive intent was reflected in Sibal’s bitter — and sweeping — description of the BJP’s demand for the Prime Minister’s ouster and the strategy to keep Parliament paralysed. Sibal said: “The thought that led to assassination of Mahatma Gandhi is now threatening to kill democracy.”
Explaining that the process involved investment of more than Rs 1 lakh crore, Sibal said: “How can you cancel the allocations and destroy the economic structure? There are complex issues of economy involved, which should be debated. Apart from private investments, around 75 per cent of the funds would be bank loans. Who will repay these, the BJP? Power plants worth Rs 20,000 crore are ready for production but they haven’t got coal. How can anyone who is serious about governance and loves the country even ask for such decisions?”
Sibal contended that the government gave captive coal blocks for specific end-use to ensure power and steel at reasonable prices and it was the government’s duty to make policies with the larger objective of growth and other requirements of the country.
“Coal cannot be sold in the open market and hence we don’t agree with the CAG’s calculation of loss and gain. If you don’t give coal for steel and power plants, they will have to import at a price three times higher, which will push inflation up,” he said.
Sibal said the BJP was misleading the country and running away from debate only for the fear of being exposed.
The government and the Congress appear to have worked out a two-pronged strategy that involves putting the CAG report in perspective and picking holes in the BJP’s claims.
While Congress state units across the country have been instructed to reach out to the people, the central government has begun to explain the facts of the case in exhaustive detail.
Sibal presented before the media a compilation of what BJP leaders had said about various findings of the CAG during the Vajpayee government, in addition to a comparative study of the allocation procedures during the NDA and the UPA regimes.
He said while coal blocks were distributed during the NDA regime on a whim, the UPA introduced stringent guidelines.
Accusing BJP leader Arun Jaitley of selective amnesia, Sibal asked in a written statement: “Will Jaitley tell us under what transparent procedure the allocations for coal blocks were made by the screening committee in its 14th meeting on June 18-19, 1999 to M/s Monnet Ispat Ltd, M/s Jayaswal Neco Ltd and M/s Castron Technology Ltd?”
Sibal also countered the BJP’s sense of outrage at the criticism of the CAG, asking: “You can abuse the Prime Minister and ask for his resignation without any evidence but can’t find fault with the CAG? We don’t accept this logic.”
He went on to recall, date-wise, what the BJP leaders had said about the CAG. “When the NDA was confronted with the demand for CBI probe into the Centaur Hotel scam hinted at by the CAG, minister for disinvestment Arun Shourie said it was ironic that we swallow or vomit allegations.”
Sibal pointed out that Shourie further said “the methodology of computing notional losses is idiotic, sorry peculiar, the CAG needs streamlining, and if the same logic of notional losses was extended to earlier divestment deals, the government should compensate Reliance and Tatas.” Sibal claimed that Jaitley had said in 2001 in the context of the coffin scam that “the CAG findings are based on hearsay, not on facts”.
He added that the then defence minister, George Fernandes, had sponsored a booklet called Scandal of CAG Review” saying “it is the CAG which has acted unethically”.