Back in 2005, an opposition MP expressed concern over the allocation of coal blocks to some private companies. Hansraj Gangaram Ahir of the BJP strongly believed that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Coal and Steel should have gone in for an auction of the coal blocks.
He therefore informed the Coal Minister Shibu Soren that other members of the committee were ignoring his well-meaning advice, but no action was taken. Two years later, Ahir wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who was then holding the Coal portfolio. All that the Chandrapur MP got in reply was a mere acknowledgement of his mail.
Ahir sent 14 more letters to the PM, and also the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Apparently these missives ended up in the dustbin, as the UPA-I government continued to allocate scores of coal blocks to undeserving parties.
Ahir then decided to alert the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) about the massive corruption. In 2010, the Comptroller and Auditor General was also apprised.
Ahir convinced as many as 19 NDA members of Parliament to sign on his petition that demanded a complete audit of the coal blocks allocation. Even as the CAG started looking into the matter, Ahir and party colleague Prakash Javadekar lodged a complaint with the CVC. As a result, the Central Bureau of Investigation launched their probe.
In 2012, the CAG said in its report that the total loss to the exchequer due the allotment of coal blocks was a staggering Rs 1.86 lakh crore. Ahir does not quite agree with the CAG's estimate, he believes that the potential lost revenue is much greater.
According to him, the government deliberately gave away coal blocks to private firms. Not only was Coal India ignored in the process, other public sector undertakings like Steel Authority of India, National Mineral Development Corporation, National Aluminium Company Limited and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam were also not allocated the coal blocks
Ahir points out that many private companies which had received the allocations transferred ownership of the same. What is more shocking is his revelation that 35 coal blocks were given away for a song without the screening committee's knowledge.
Thanks to Ahir's persistence, Coalgate is presently the focus of attention. The uproar over the biggest scam in India's history meant that neither the Lok Sabha nor the Rajya Sabha could transact much business during the Monsoon Session.
With the opposition sticking to its demand for the Prime Minister's resignation, the government is somehow trying to deflect the blame to state governments. However, the effort may not succeed as the BJP has scented blood.
Ahir is content to watch his party take the fight to the ruling Congress. Incidentally, this is not the first time that the 57-year-old has highlighted a coal-related issue. Hailing from a part of Maharashtra that is rich in the 'black diamond', Ahir knows well the value of coal.
In fact on joining politics nearly three decades ago, he took up the cause of farmers whose lands had been acquired by mining companies. Ahir demanded that the ryots be given adequate compensation.