The Coalgate scam and the attack on the Prime Minister and the CAG

As expected, there was going to be a storm in politics once the CAG report on the Coal Scam was going to be presented in Parliament. There was a foretaste earlier in the year when there was a leaked draft report of the CAG on the same issue that was available to the media and to the public and that caused a furor. Even at that time, the Government was on the defensive with a number of comments from various Government ministers and others that there was no problem, that the CAG was intruding into the realms of Government policy, that this policy was carried over from the past and the Government received a lot of opposition from the various states that prevented a change in policy, that Coal India was incapable of meeting the coal needs of industry and hence private parties were needed, and that ultimately there was no loss to the Government.
Now, there may be some truth in many of these claims, but the amount of truth is very low as compared to the essential truth of the corruption claims. The recent judgment by the Supreme Court which stated the need for auctions for precious natural resources was an apt successor to the problems stated in the CAG report. And, the reputation of the Government is such that people are easily available to believe that the Government can be involved with any amount of corruption. The problem for the Government is that the sequence of events in the 2G scam also moved along a similar line with the Government quoting policy, no loss, and many other similar such reasons, none of which registered in the minds of the public and caused a huge image loss to the Government. It is acknowledged that the corresponding loss of image (combined with some other scams and anti-corruption measures caused significant electoral losses to the Congress in many state elections and mid-term bypolls).

In the initial few days, the ministers of the Government cast many doubts on the role of the CAG, mostly that the CAG is stepping into the midst of policy measures, that it does not have any role to play, that the revenue loss is overly stated, and so on. For most of these, when faced with some questions, the Government does not give any other reason other than to state the same statements. It is reported that when the CAG asked about where it over-stepped its role, there was no response. Similarly, it is the role of the Government auditor to find out cases where there was a revenue loss to the Government, and in this case, even though there was a legal advice to the Government that it can go for auctions without needing legislation (although even if this required legislation, for augmenting revenue, the Government should have gone in for legislation) in the year 2006, the Government took no action.
It recently blamed the policy being carried out by previous Governments for the reason it was carrying out the policy, which is absolute bunkum since the Government is expected to govern by itself, not use the fault of previous Governments for inaction. It has been in power now since 2004, enough time to do whatever changes it wants. And now the Finance Minister (in a repeat of the no-loss statement by Kapil Sibal in the 2G case (which was heavily criticized by the Supreme Court of the country)) has stated that since coal was not really extracted from the ground, there was no loss. So, a policy was set whereby coal was handed out to private industries without any auction (on the basis of small committee screening decision making committees), justified to ensure that private industry gets coal, and then when coal was not extracted, there is no loss rather than taking back the coal mines from those companies who have done nothing ? In addition, the Government has all but stated that Coal India (a Government run company) was incapable of handling the coal needs of the company, and yet, since the Prime Ministry was handling the coal industry, there is no measure of accountability for the gross inefficiency of Coal India.
Now, what is happening ? The BJP and a few others are attacking the Prime Minister in Parliament and not letting it function (and it is quite clear that the BJP states are also involved in the same issue), the Government wants to use all the aggressive nature it can project to respond back, and in the meantime the CBI is going after the private companies that were indeed allocated coal blocks. So, some of these companies may have cases on them in some years, by which time nobody would care, and that would be the end. However, if such scams can ensure that the discretion available to Government functionaries for the allotment of precious resources is ended (except in legitimate cases that stand up to scrutiny), then that would be a major achievement. Ideal of course is that some political responsibility is decided and there is some political heads that roll; and we know by now that the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, whose reputation is anyhow in shreds, will not be jettisoned by the party till the reluctant failed prince (Rahul Gandhi) agrees to take up the challenge to reduce the number of seats of the Congress below 100.

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