Coal Scam Paralyzes Indian Parliament; Opposition Demands PM's Resignation

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India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh walks on stage for a photo opportunity as part of the 5th East Asia Summit in Hanoi October 30, 2010.
India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh walks on stage for a photo opportunity as part of the 5th East Asia Summit in Hanoi October 30, 2010.

India's parliament was paralyzed for the third consecutive day Thursday after the opposition demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation over a recent report of possible corruption in the sale of coal concessions to private firms.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is set to register a case regarding the suspected irregularities in the allocation and use of coal blocks between 2006 and 2009 after the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) said last week that the underpriced sales might have cost the exchequer revenues to the tune of Rs 1.86 lakh crore ($33 billion).

Following a preliminary enquiry, the CBI has found major instances of violations with regard to the coal blocks allocated in the eastern Indian states of Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and the southern Indian state of Karnataka, the Hindu reported citing an unnamed source in the agency.

Main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has demanded Singh's resignation since he was heading the Coal Ministry during much of the time in question. The government didn't conduct coal blocks auctions during these years, and this allegedly benefited certain private companies.

Singh has categorically denied any misconduct and promised to resign if the investigation brings to light instances of wrongdoing during his tenure at the ministry.

The ruling Congress party criticized the CAG saying that constitutional institutions should function within their jurisdiction and not take any step that "damages the system".

"Constitutional bodies should be careful not to take any step, which damages the system. CAG is a constitutional body," Congress party spokesperson Rashid Alvi was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India (PTI). "It has arrived at presumptive losses. Every constitutional body has its set jurisdiction. No constitutional body should go beyond its jurisdiction. We should work by remaining within our jurisdiction," Alvi said.

Alvi held the opposition responsible for the parliament deadlock, saying that the coal blocks were allocated only on the recommendation of the states ruled by the BJP.

"There is no question of the prime minister resigning. Prime minister's image is very clean. Nobody turns an accused or delinquent only by BJP's allegations," Alvi said.

Congress sources said Singh was ready to face the opposition and alleged that governments of Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Jharkhand and Rajasthan (under the rule of the BJP and its allies) and West Bengal (during the rule of Left Front headed by the Communist Party of India-Marxist) had given in writing that there should not be an auction of the coal blocks, IANS reported.

The Congress said the CAG report mentioned 57 blocks while the production had begun only in one during the time under scrutiny.

As the chaos in the parliament continued Thursday, the government turned the tables on the opposition with the Congress members in the lower house of the parliament displaying newspaper reports which said the BJP in 2005 told the Central Government that auction of coal blocks would adversely affect the industry, PTI reported.

Parliament's upper house also plunged into turmoil the moment Chairman Hamid Ansari began the day's proceedings.

The apex audit body's report on the suspected collusion between the government and private players is the latest in a series of corruption scandals that have hit the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which is gearing up for the 2014 parliamentary elections.

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