|Manmohan Singh; (right) P Chidambaram
New Delhi, Sept. 3: The government today toughened its stand on the coal stand-off by not only rejecting all the demands of the Opposition but also by expanding the scope of a review to include those allotted when the NDA was in power.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram dismissed the BJP charge that the government was extending the scope of review to 1993 as a diversionary tactic. “Why this 2004 benchmark? Like the Gregorian calendar, as if 1993 and 2004 are like AD-BC. The policy started in 1993 and if it is flawed, all the allocations should be reviewed,” he said.
Rejecting the demand for cancellation of all the allotments, Chidambaram said: “The BJP has three demands. The first, resignation of the Prime Minister, is outrageous and no government can even consider it. The second is a judicial probe; there is nothing for a judge to find out as the same process of allocation was followed and all the facts are available and the CBI is looking into it. The third demand for cancellation of all the 142 blocks is not founded on logic.”
The finance minister, briefing the media from the Congress platform, said: “Out of the total 142 blocks, 30 are producing coal and 17 are likely to start production in the very near future. There are 58 blocks which fall in no-go areas (wildlife corridor), and the inter-ministerial group (IMG) will have to examine which of them can do mining. So we can’t club all the blocks together.”
Chidambaram revealed that there are 32 blocks where the progress is very unsatisfactory. Seven of these blocks were allocated before 2004 and the 25 after that. “These parties have been cautioned,” he said.
The minister added that holders of 58 more blocks were showcaused for violation of contractual obligations and the IMG was examining their responses. While five of these blocks were allocated before 2004, 53 were sanctioned after that period.
The finance minister said even these blocks cannot be cancelled without following the due procedure and the parties, which include both private players and PSUs, were given the opportunity to explain themselves.
He conceded that the review process could have suffered delays as there was a provision for periodic review but pointed out that the Prime Minister had now asked the IMG to quicken the process.
Rejecting the charges of wrongdoing, Chidambaram said: “The government has done whatever was required without going into the merit of the CAG report. We now earnestly request the BJP to allow Parliament to function as only a face-to-face debate will bring clarity and enable the people to take their own decisions. Hopping from studio to studio to carry on the debate or turning party offices into the third chamber of Parliament won’t do. It is sad that the debate is being continued in this manner when Parliament is in session.”
The finance minister did not comment on the CAG report but expressed surprise at the presumption that it was beyond criticism. He said: “It is the job of the CAG to find fault. Every CAG report is debated and questioned in the Public Accounts Committee and then in Parliament. Even the Supreme Court verdicts are debated and criticised. Several independent analysts and economists have questioned the CAG’s findings. Can you doubt their bona fide?”
The finance minister also read out the text of a speech by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in which he strongly advocated captive coal mines for power plants to fast-track the capacity addition programme by states.
The government has been highlighting the views of chief ministers, particularly those from the BJP, to prove the point that the majority of coal-bearing states were opposed to auctions. The government now expects these chief ministers to oppose cancellations.