For the fourth day in a row, Parliament was adjourned before any business could be conducted, as the BJP continued to shout its demand for the Prime Minister's resignation for an alleged mishandling of the allocation of coal fields to private firms. In an attempt to persuade the BJP to change its strategy, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde met with BJP leader Sushma Swaraj. She reportedly said that her party and its allies, who make up the NDA coalition, will not bend.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiwal held a press conference today and urged the BJP to let Parliament function starting on Monday. By not allowing a debate, the Coal Minister said, the BJP is keeping facts concealed from the public. "We hope the PM is able to make a statement in parliament on Monday, if not...then we will have to find a way for him to speak to the people," said Mr Chidambaram. Today, Left leader Sitaram Yechury suggested that the PM should reach out to BJP leaders to end the impasse.
In a report shared with Parliament last week, the Comptroller and Auditor General said that because coal fields were not auctioned between 2004 and 2009, private firms benefited by upto Rs. 1.86 lakh crore. Because the PM held direct charge of the Coal Ministry for three of these years, the BJP says the buck stops with him.
His party disagrees. "The policy that was followed was what had been followed by earlier governments," said Mr Chidambaram. He also said that the auditor's calculations were flawed. "Loss can arise only if one ton of coal is taken out of Mother Earth and sold at some unacceptable price...if coal is not mined, where is the loss?" he asked. " I think because of rising prosperity in last few years, we are enamoured of numbers that run into six and nine digits," he said, questioning the overall figure cited by the auditor as "windall gains" to private firms.
Mr Chidambaram also stressed that in 2006, the government suggested switching to an auction, but state governments - many of them led by the BJP, like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh- objected, arguing that bidding for mines would raise the prices of coal and adversely impact industry and development in their states. "The UPA attempted to change policy, but that attempt took a certain number of years to fructify. Ultimately, the UPA succeeded in amending the law," Mr Chidambaram said, adding that the Centre spent time ensuring that state governments were on board with the new law to ensure it was on "sound footing."
(With Inputs from PTI)