The BJP, unyielding in its demand for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation, did not allow Parliament to function again today. Sources say the party plans to continue disruptions till the end of this week over the controversy that's being called Coal-gate, spawned by the national auditor's conclusion that the government enabled Rs. 1.86 lakh crores as "windfall gains" to private firms by giving them coal fields at a fraction of their market value. For three of the five years under scrutiny, the PM held direct charge of the Coal Ministry. Therefore, the BJP says, he must accept the blame for a huge lapse and resign.
The government reiterated today that in 2005, when it had suggested allocating mines through an auction, a series of states, some of them governed by the BJP, had objected, arguing that this would push coal prices up and adversely impact industrial development in their states. "Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal... they all aggressively resisted a bidding process," said Coal Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal. The law for an auction is now in place.
The Prime Minister has been waiting since yesterday to make a statement in Parliament. "It's very unfortunate that disrupting the House is the BJP's only strategy," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.
Other parties - including the Janata Dal (United) or JDU, an important ally of the BJP - agree that Parliament must be allowed to function. They want the Prime Minister to present the government's defence and initiate a debate. Shivanand Tiwari of the JD(U) said his party is not in favour of insisting on the PM's resignation before allowing Parliament to get back to work. The JD(U), he said, wants to hold the government accountable through a detailed discussion. The Left agreed.
The auditor or Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has not indicted the Prime Minister. But the BJP, which has been targeting the Congress for corruption, is determined to get maximum bang for the Rs. 1.86 lakh crore bucks stated as presumptive losses in the CAG report.
Over the last few months, the BJP has been concerned that civil society activists like Anna Hazare have hijacked the cause of exposing the government's alleged graft, reducing the BJP to a supporting act. In the CAG report, it has an opportunity to reclaim a starring role, so a sustained flogging of its contents is likely. The party has also tried to use Coal-gate to expand the fault-lines between the Congress and its ally, Mamata Banerjee. Emissaries today sought her support in the campaign against the PM, but she refused the offer, choosing to stand with the UPA, the ruling coalition that she belongs to, often with mixed results. (Read)
The auditor says that the government should have auctioned the coal fields, instead of allocating them through responses to advertisements, which were then evaluated by a screening committee. But the government has said that the laws at the time did not allow for an auction and the urgent needs of a growing economy meant that the most effective way to augment coal production was to involve the private sector.
Left leader Sitaram Yechury clarified today that what Bengal had opposed when an auction was suggested was any move that would have raised the price of coal for state-run companies that supplied power or other key services; the Centre should have introduced competitive bidding or an auction for private players, he said.