India’s opposition targets Singh over ‘coalgate’
NEW DELHI: India’s opposition on Tuesday targeted on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a report by the state auditor which highlighted massive losses caused by his government giving away coal blocks.
Protests by members of the main opposition Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), who again pushed their long-standing demand for Singh to step down, forced an adjournment of proceedings in the national parliament.
“The PM is culpable for the delay in introducing transparent auctions,”said Ravi Shankar Prasad, the deputy leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha or the upper house.
The report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on Friday said private companies had made windfall gains of about $33.4 billion since 2004 after being given mining rights via a process that “lacked transparency and objectivity”.
The government had known of the huge profits for private operators, but had failed to introduce an open bidding process that would have brought in revenue for the national exchequer, the CAG said.
Singh, whose reputation has been sullied by a string of scandals in his administration, was in charge of the coal ministry from 2004 to 2009 and has been personally implicated in the mismanagement.
The coalition government, led by the left-leaning Congress party, maintains it was simply following established policy and the prime minister had denied wrongdoing before the report’s release.
“They (the opposition in parliament) are pleasing themselves with all kinds of preposterous demands,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told reporters on Tuesday.
“Their stand is not backed by any facts that is why they are causing a ruckus,” he added.
Singh’s coalition government has been beset by corruption scandals since re-election in 2009, most notably stemming from the sale of mobile phone spectrum which has led to the arrest and trial of then-telecom minister A Raja.