Indian taxpayers may have lost as much as Rs. 3.8 lakh crore in scams in the power, aviation and coal sectors over the past eight years, the country's state auditor said in reports tabled before Parliament.
The Comptroller and Auditor General charged the government with allotting coalfields and land for power projects and Delhi’s airport to private firms at a fraction of the market price, bringing the corruption issue back under the spotlight and sparking Opposition calls for PM Manmohan Singh to quit.
The figure for potential lost revenue from the allotment of coal blocks alone, at Rs. 1.86 lakh crore, exceeds losses from even the infamous scandal over allotment of 2G telecom spectrum that sent minister A Raja to jail.
The loss to the exchequer from the three scandals, at current rates of expenditure, would fund India's central healthcare budget for the next 14 years, or send the country's children to school for the next eight years.
Parliament is certain to get off to a stormy start when it resumes next week. The CAG reports came as handy ammunition to the opposition parties, especially because the PM was in charge of the coal ministry when the allocations were made.
"In the 2G spectrum scam, the PM was politically and vicariously liable," Arun Jaitley, senior BJP leader and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, told reporters.
“In this case, for a substantial period from 2004 to 2009, he was himself the minister. Thus, he is politically, morally and directly liable. If he is directly liable, he has to introspect that he should own up responsibility and impose on himself the moral sanction of quitting his office.”
The reports have caught the government at an awkward time as it wrestles with a slowing economy, rising prices and growing public disenchantment.But the ruling Congress party launched a spirited defence of its coalition government, even hinting that the CAG may have overstepped its brief as the national auditor by commenting on public policies.
"I am not going to say anything on the merit of this. According to me, the CAG is not following its mandate," said V Narayanasamy, minister of state in the prime minister's office.
Congress spokesman Manish Tewari took a dig at the CAG, saying it didn't understand the basics of developmental economics. He pointed out that the blocks were not put under the hammer because the then BJP-ruled Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, along with Left-ruled West Bengal, opposed any competitive bidding.
"Between 1993 and 2004 the non-Congress governments had given 39 coal blocks in a similar way. The present government only followed the laid-down procedure," said Tewari.
In the report on Delhi airport, CAG questioned the government's decision to hand out land that has potential earning capacity of Rs. 1.63 lakh crore to airport developer Dial at much below market prices.
In the report on huge power projects, it raised questions about the offering of an additional coal block and land to power companies including Reliance Power Limited that may result in a financial gain of R29,033 crore to the companies.