Coalgate: Another ‘zero loss theory’

Home Minister P Chidambaram has given fresh ammunition to BJP.

Biplob Ghosal

It seems Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram has given fresh ammunition to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by claiming ‘zero loss’ in the coal blocks allocation.

It is very unusual for a seasoned politician like Chidambaram to give such a statement. The way he has tried to justify the ‘no loss’ figure is nothing less than bizarre. Does our honourable Finance Minister want us to believe that there has been no loss to the exchequer, since the private companies haven’t yet started mining at the coal mines that were allotted to them? It seems he is forgetting that in this entire episode, even if these companies haven’t started extracting coal the mines are their property now. Secondly, it goes without saying that a huge amount of revenue could have been generated if the mines were auctioned, like in the case of 3G spectrum.

Chidambaram, along with Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Law Minister Salman Khurshid, had said at a press conference on Friday that “if the coal is not mined and stays under mother earth, then where is the loss”.

Well, the lawyer turned minister seems to be toeing his colleague Kapil Sibal’s line who had made similar ‘zero loss’ claim when the 2G spectrum allocation scam was unearthed.

The BJP has lashed out and grabbed the golden opportunity with both hands to take on Chidambaram and the government. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley has come out all guns blazing. He said: “The UPA tried to misguide then also with its zero loss theory… Finance Minister P Chidambaram hasn’t learnt a lesson from his colleague Kapil Sibal’s mistake.”
“I don’t think Chidambaram will be able to mislead the people, except himself,” Jaitley said further.

The government’s defence in saying that the allocation of coal mines were expedited to fast track economic growth and increase the power supply in the country also doesn’t hold weight as mining has begun in only one of the over 50 mines allocated. So, Chidambaram’s statement that "if coal is not mined and remains buried under mother earth, where is the loss” makes no sense.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), in its report, has said that lack of transparency in allocation of coal blocks to private players resulted in a notional loss of Rs.1.85 lakh crore (USD 37 billion) to the exchequer.

Above all, the CAG in its report also mentioned that the mines were distributed to persons who don’t have any experience in coal mining, thus clearly indicating that there might be some beneficiaries who might be close to some influential people.
Surely, the government has a lot to answer.

Also, while the BJP is leaving no stone unturned in cornering the government, it should also understand it is doing no good to the nation by stalling the Parliament. The main opposition party needs to revisit its strategy and allow a debate in both the Houses of Parliament. Let Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spell out his government’s defence and if still dissatisfied, the BJP can, with other political parties, demand Dr Singh’s resignation or whatever they feel is right. This would not only take the issue to its logical conclusion but also help the people of this nation hear both sides of the story and decide who is correct.

With Parliament proceedings being stalled for a whole week and reports that the entire Monsoon Session could be jeopardized, all parties need to come together and chalk out a strategy to come out of the impasse so that pending legislations like the Grievance Redressal Bill, Whistle Blowers` Protection Bill and Lokpal Bill could become a reality.

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