Government defends coal allocations, BJP targets PM (Roundup)

Posted on October 17, 2013 from New Delhi ι Report #5

New Delhi, Oct 17 (IANS) The government said it had nothing to hide on the controversial coal allocations and pointed out that the CBI booking corporates in the matter was creating sensation even as the BJP targeted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh amid a request to add his name in the FIR.

"We have nothing to hide," Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office V. Narayanasamy said, adding that allocations had been made to public sector undertakings and some private companies "on the recommendations of state governments where coal blocks were available".

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) targeted the prime minister. "The trail of the coal allocation scam goes all the way to 7, Race Course Road (PM's residence). If in the Commonwealth Games scam, the person who put the final signature was held accountable and jailed, then what is the reason that the prime minister, who held the coal portfolio, is not responsible," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.

Cabinet ministers defended the prime minister.

Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma hit out at the BJP. "Now who is going to give certificate to prime minister of India, who is globally respected, or to his ministers? I don't think we need certificates," Sharma told Times Now TV channel.

The prime minister did nothing wrong by signing the coal allocation file, he said. An atmosphere where ministers or bureaucracy do not sign papers out of fear was a "recipe for disaster", Sharma said, contending that the economic environment had been vitiated over the past three years.

"You cannot hold decision-making to ransom so that nobody takes a decision, everybody is fearful," he said.

Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal too defended the prime minister. "The entire nation knows about the commitment and honesty of the prime minister. He does not need any certificate from any quarter to prove his honesty," Jaiswal said.

The ministers also targeted the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for booking corporates.

In a veiled criticism of CBI, Sharma said authorities should not "play to the gallery and create an environment of sensation and shock".

"So, the larger question which comes up is that whether we have an environment which is conducive to decision-making and also which gives confidence to the investors and to the corporate world," Sharma told NDTV.

Jaiswal too cautioned that everyone should refrain from issuing such statements which could weaken the economy of the country or prevent bureaucracy from working.

"Everyone should take precaution that no such statements are issued which could impact market sentiments, weaken the economy or could prevent bureaucrats from working," he said, without referring to any specific person or party.

The Congress stood by the ministers' view.

"They (ministers) have said that ... when these sorts of accusations start flying and everyone is speculating, any kind of speculation will have a negative impact on the industrial growth, atmosphere. That's it. No one has said that you should protect individuals. Nobody has said that," Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury said.

"We have not done any kind of veracity on what CBI has said. I have categorically said that it is between the court and CBI what they are going to find. In the meantime, can we please not have random speculation and jump to conclusions. That is the precise thing," she said.

The controversy started after CBI Tuesday registered a case against industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla and former coal secretary P.C. Parakh on charges of criminal conspiracy and misuse of official position over the allocation of coal blocks in 2005. Officials said Tuesday's FIR was the 14th in the allocation controversy.

Advocate M.L. Sharma petitioned the Supreme Court seeking direction to the CBI to add the name of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the FIR.

Parakh Wednesday said the final decision lay with the prime minister who held coal portfolio then. CBI director Ranjit Sinha justified the fresh FIRs against corporates saying the agency was only following Supreme Court guidelines.

"It's not our concern what other agencies said about the former coal secretary," he said, referring to Parakh, who has defended his role in the allocation.

"We have evidence on record that it was Parakh who overturned the screening committee decision and the coal block was allotted to the Birlas."