The embarrassing ‘missing files’ controversy in the ‘Coalgate’ scam could not have come at a more inopportune time for the UPA government.
The resultant disruptions in Parliament come right in the middle of the process to enact a food guarantee statute — a showpiece legislation of the government in its second term. The law being drafted traces its roots to court rulings that the right to live is a right to live with human dignity.
Access to food forms the core of this dignity and it would be unconscionable to argue against such an entitlement. India has a long way to go before it can get food into every mouth that needs it.
A food security Bill seeks to do precisely that. That said, the government, having bitten the bullet by passing an ordinance last month, is now facing double the heat on ‘missing files’ of the scam involving the arbitrary allocation of coalfields.
The issue has unwittingly united a fractious Opposition and threatens to snowball into a major political controversy in an election year.
An unrelenting Opposition has launched a no-holds-barred attack on the UPA government after reports emerged that crucial files relating to the investigation of the scam, valued by national auditor Comptroller and Auditor General in a report last year at R1.86 lakh crore, went missing.
The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the ‘Coalgate’ scam, has booked several companies for various irregularities, including the illegitimate selling of stakes at a premium riding on unused coal reserves.
The inability to trace documents has given the Opposition extra ammunition to nail the government as the home-run dash for next year’s election begins.
This, ironically, could stymie the momentum on other expected reforms as an embattled government, facing a series of scandals, seeks to shrug off perceptions of policy paralysis and governance deficit.
The parliamentary logjam is threatening to derail the government’s plans to introduce key reformist legislations, including a statutory framework for a clearly-defined policy on land acquisition to catalyse large scale industrialisation that will help create millions of jobs.
Other Bills that could get affected include the Pension Fund and the Regulatory Development Authority Bill. The latter aims to set up a statutory watchdog that will provide social security to millions of employees through efficient intermediation of long-term household savings.
The Direct Taxes Code Bill aimed at overhauling India’s old income tax laws with a modern contemporary structure will also be affected. Each of these legislations had faced its own dynamic of resistance, pacing out its passage through departments and ministries.
With the economy’s growth at a decade-low, the government and Parliament can ill afford to turn its attention to factors other than those that ought to raise the trend line.