Govt offensive on coal block issue, says no loss

New Delhi, Aug 24: The government today launched a counter-offensive on the coal block allocation controversy maintaining that CAG's concept of presumptive loss was flawed and there was no loss because no mining has taken place as yet.

With Parliament disrupted for the fourth consecutive day in the wake of CAG report on coal blocks allocation, the government fielded a battery of ministers led by P Chidambaram who accused the Opposition of being "unwilling" to allow Parliament to function and discuss the issue.

The Finance Minister appealed to the Opposition to come back to Parliament on Monday and allow it to function so that first thing the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can make a statement and a debate can follow to any length of time it wants.

Flanked by Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Chidambaram who heads the Group on Ministers on Media, said the UPA was being unnecessarily targeted for following procedures adopted by the governments since 1994 in allocating coal blocks without auction.

"This presumptive loss (of Rs 1.86 lakh crore projected by CAG in its report), I deeply regret to say, is so flawed... incisive articles by very eminent writers have pointed out these flaws," Chidambaram said.

"If coal is not mined, if it remains buried in mother earth, where is the loss. The loss can arise only once the coal is taken out of mother earth, mined and sold at unacceptable price or value. But if the coal is not mined, where is the loss," he said.

Chidambaram was apparently referring to the CAG's figure of Rs 1.86 lakh crore "undue benefit" flowing to private firms who have been allocated coal blocks without auction since 2004. The Minister said no coal has been mined so far in 56 out of the 57 blocks examined by the CAG.

Taking a dig at the enormous loss calculated by the CAG, he said, "I think, thanks to rising prosperity in the country over the last few years, we are all enamoured about the numbers which run into six digits and nine digits."

He also attacked the Opposition saying the Government was being pilloried for attempting to put in place a new transparent way of allocating coal blocks by amending the law.

"A government which brought about, although after some time, a successful change in policy is being blamed for continuation of a policy that had its origin many years before the UPA came into being. So, if you did nothing, you are not to be blamed. If you try to bring about a change, you are to be blamed. Is that the standard by which we will conduct our public affairs," he said.

Explaining the delay in changing the policy, he said governments after government in states had opposed auction of coal blocks. The Centre could have changed the procedure by an executive order but decided not to because that would have amounted to riding roughshod over the States.

Asked about Law Ministry's recommendation in 2006 that coal blocks can be auction through an administrative order, Chidambaram said the government avoided it because it could have been challenged in court.

The Government, he said, wanted to proceed ahead by changing the law which it did subsequently after both the Houses passed an amending law.


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