Hours after PM Manmohan Singh ran down the CAG’s report that blamed the UPA for gifting away coal blocks to private players, the government hit out at the opposition for stalling Parliament calling it “a black spot for democracy”.
The Congress also geared to counter the opposition campaign that holds the UPA responsible for irregularities and organised a special briefing for its MPs by coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal, Chidambaram and parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal.
It wasn’t as smooth an affair for Jaiswal with a couple of party MPs grilling the coal minister on various aspects of the controversy, a Congress leader said. In his statement, the PM had questioned the auditor's assumptions, reasoning, conclusion and the estimate of potential benefit to private firms and asserted that the facts “show that the CAG's findings are flawed on multiple counts.”
The CAG had estimated the private sector firms allotted coal blocks had benefited by up to Rs 1.86 lakh crore between 2004 and 2009 because the government did not auction these mines.
Singh said CAG's premise that competitive bidding could have been introduced in 2006 by amending the existing instructions was flawed and grounded in "a selective reading" of the law ministry's opinions.
The UPA improved the procedure in 2005 by inviting applications through open advertisements and proposed competitive bidding by amending the rules. But the law ministry advised that bidding be introduced only after a change in law.Singh acknowledged the government could be criticised for not amending the law "speedily enough". "In retrospect, I would readily agree that in a world where things can be done by fiat, we could have done it faster," he said, pointing "this is easier said than done" given the complexities of the process of consensus building in our parliamentary system.