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Storm over missing coal files blows food bill debate away

delhi Updated: Aug 21, 2013 08:22 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times
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The missing coal scam files derailed the government’s plan to get the Lok Sabha’s nod for its showpiece food legislation on Tuesday, with an aggressive Opposition paralysing Parliament.

The government’s efforts to get the food security bill passed in at least one of the Houses on the birth anniversary of late Rajiv Gandhi came unstuck, as an unrelenting Opposition insisted on a statement from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

With the Parliament closed on Wednesday for Raksha Bandhan, the focus now shifts to Thursday. The government is desperately looking for a middle path to break the logjam and get Parliament’s nod for the “game-changer” scheme, which promises subsidised food to 67% Indians, this session. A lot of legislative business is pending and the session — if not extended — has only six working days left.

Coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal’s statement in the Rajya Sabha that no stone would be left unturned in tracing “some documents that could not be located in the ministry” added fuel to the coal fire.

“Files don’t disappear; they are made to disappear…..The evidence of the crime is in these files. Now, obviously, those who are being targeted by the investigation will have an interest that if the evidence disappears,” said leader of the opposition Arun Jaitley.

“Why is the government not being transparent? ... Let the Prime Minister make a statement. The files belong to the period when he was in charge of the coal ministry. So, the Prime Minister should explain,” Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury said.

In Lok Sabha, leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj pointed out that earlier the Prime Minister had taken “full responsibility” for the decisions of the coal ministry. “The PM should come to the House and explain how the coal gate files went missing and how can they be recovered,” she said.

In the din, the “vote-catcher” food bill took a beating and discussion on it could not be started. The government had made all the preparations and Congress president Sonia Gandhi was to be the first speaker from the government side.

Last month, the government enacted the food law through an ordinance, which must now be passed by Parliament.

It may not immediately relent on the demand for the PM’s statement but the government could agree on a discussion on at a later date.

The CBI is investigating charges of irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks between 1993 and 2009. The untraceable documents are coming in the way of probe into the blocks allotted between 2006 and 2009, investigators say.

Apart from Coalgate, the issue of Telangana, too, continues to be a headache for the ruling combine. Some Congress MPs from Andhra Pradesh have been regularly joining the protests inside the House led by the members of the Telugu Desam Party.