NDA wants PM to quit over coalgate

Singh offers debate on CAG report

The Opposition in Parliament did not allow either House to function on Tuesday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the ground that he held the coal portfolio for five of the eight years during when the rip-off of the natural resource took place.

Singh refused to resign, offered instead a debate on the CAG report. His colleagues in the government and Congress members came to the defence of the prime minister, countering the offensive launched by the BJP-led NDA over the CAG report tabled on Friday, which claimed that the exchequer suffered a notional loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore in allotting coal blocks without competitive bidding.

The NDA is targeting Singh as the coal ministry was under him when the allotment took place, arguing that he was aware of the scam since the ministry finally cleared the shortlisting of consumers of coal blocks. The Opposition alliance is sensing a kill as it believe that this time the Congress cannot shift the blame on its allies for the corruption in the UPA government, as it did during the 2G by putting the onus on tainted DMK leader and telecom minister A Raja.

The NDA members shouted slogans against the government and walked into the Well of the Lok Sabha as Parliament assembled at 11 in the morning after a three-day break.

As both Houses convened, BJP MPs again started shouting slogans against the government and walked up to the well of the House, refusing to allow proceedings to continue. Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde was heard saying that the government was for a debate on the CAG report on coal allocation, but the Opposition members continued to protest, forcing the adjournment of the Lower House for the day.

The Rajya Sabha did function briefly to unanimously elect Congress member P J Kurien as deputy chairman, but  subsequently that House too was adjourned for the day.

The prime minister told reporters laster: “We are ready for any debate. We can give satisfactory answers to all the issues being raised.”

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s office, V Narayanasamy tried to shield Singh by arguing that the government’s policy cannot be questioned by the CAG.
He said: “They can only do accounting. It’s a provisional report, not an indictment of the government. Several CAG reports were also filed during the NDA regime. Did they resign?”
Later NDA leaders, including Leaders of Opposition in the two Houses, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitely, JDU’s Sharad Yadav and Ananth Geethe from the Shiv Sena, met at senior BJP leader L K Advani’s room in Parliament to decide their strategies.

The Opposition alliance partners were united in deciding that the prime minister’s resignation should be sought, BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters later.

“Over the years the events demonstrate very clearly that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government is a government of scam, shame and loot,” Prasad said in the party briefing. Giving statistics of coal block allocation in different regimes — during the NDA and UPA governments — the BJP said between 1993 and 2005, 70 block were allocated. Of them, 33 were given during the NDA regime. But from 2006 to 2010, 146 blocks were given out, indicating massive scam.

Drawing a parallel between the 2G spectrum and coalgate scams, he said as telecom ministry favoured new players like Unitech whose net worth went up, similarly the government gave blocks to rookie companies allowing them to jack up their financial clout.

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