Manmohan puts the blame on States

Coalgate: Several non-Congress govts opposed bidding, says PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday claimed that the Centre and the governments of the states, including the ones ruled by the BJP, had collectively decided in 2005 to continue with allocation of coal blocks through the Inter-Ministerial Screening Committee, as switch to competitive bidding would have taken considerable time.

Seeking to blunt the principal opposition party’s offensive against the government on the coal scam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated in both Houses of Parliament that the governments of major coal and lignite bearing states like West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Rajasthan – all ruled by opposition parties – had in 2005 and 2006, strongly opposed the switch over to competitive bidding for coal block allocation. 

He also said Vasundhara Raje Scindia, chief minister of the erstwhile BJP government in Rajasthan, and Raman Singh, who still heads the principal opposition party’s government in Chhattisgarh, had written to him in April and June 2005 respectively, opposing allocation of coal blocks through competitive bidding.

Singh said the state governments had opposed auction of the blocks, as they felt that it would increase the cost of coal, adversely impact value addition and development of industries in the states and dilute their prerogatives in selection of lessees. As the BJP members continued to disrupt the proceedings in both Houses of Parliament, the prime minister’s defence against the Comptroller and Auditor General’s critical report on coal block allocation was drowned in the din. He, however, laid the statement on the tables of both Houses.

Singh said Scindia had pointed out that the proposal to shift to competitive bidding for coal block allocation was against the spirit of the recommendations of the Sarkaria Commission, on the relation between the Centre and the states.

The chief minister of Chhattisgarh too had sought continuation of the extant policy of granting coal blocks through the Inter-Ministerial Screening Committee, which also had representations from the state governments.  Raman Singh had requested that any changes in coal policy be made after arriving at a consensus between the Centre and the states. The Biju Janata Dal government in Odisha and the then Left Front government in West Bengal also wrote formally opposing competitive bidding, added the prime minister.

Singh said representatives of the governments of the states with coal and lignite resources had opposed auction of coal blocks during a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office on July 25, 2005.  “It was further noted that the legislative changes that would be required for the proposed change would require considerable time and the process of allocation of coal blocks for captive mining could not be kept in abeyance for so long given the pressing demand for coal,” the prime minister said.

He added that it was decided in the meeting to continue with the allocation of coal blocks through the extant Screening Committee procedure till the new competitive bidding procedure became operational.

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