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Parliament stuck: UPA pushes food bill, Opposition wants answers on coal scam

PTI  New Delhi, August 20, 2013
First Published: 14:03 IST(20/8/2013) | Last Updated: 18:25 IST(20/8/2013)

Consideration of the much-touted Food Security Bill in Parliament was scuttled on Tuesday with opposition creating uproar over the issue of missing files related to the coal block allocation and demanding a statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the issue.

Under attack over missing files relating to coal block allocation, government today said in the Rajya Sabha that the issue was being looked into and no stone would be left unturned in tracing the missing documents sought by CBI.

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The Opposition forced three adjournments before lunch over the issue, asking coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal to recuse himself from replying and demanding that the Prime Minister should make a statement.

They said "propriety" demands Jaiswal should abstain as the missing files reportedly relate to a beneficiary of coal block allocation who is linked to the minister.

Jaiswal sought to mollify the Opposition as he said he was ready to face any punishment if found guilty of the allegations.

At the same time, he asked Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley as to what punishment he would undergo if the case was otherwise.

"All efforts are being made to locate documents which are not readily available...My Ministry would leave no stone unturned in tracing and providing the documents sought by the CBI," he said, adding a total of 769 files and documents running into 1.5 lakh pages have been handed over to the investigating agency.

Raising the issue earlier, Jaitley said there are media reports that one of the beneficiaries of the coal block allocation was some body with whom the Coal Minister was related.

"If files relating to that allocation are missing, should he be making a statement on those files. I want to know from the chair that on account of this conflict of interest, should he make the statement...If not direct, it is a case of indirect involvement," said Jaitley.

"Propriety demands that the minister should voluntarily not speak...it should be the Prime Minister who should speak," said Najma Heptulla (BJP), asking the chair to give a ruling in this regard.

Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said the Minister should "at least voluntarily recuse himself" from replying to the query on missing files.

Supporting the demand, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said, "The House must know how these files are missing. It is appropriate that the minister then incharge should make the statement how the files went missing."    

Replying to the opposition attack, Jaiswal conceded that some files are missing and hence an inter-ministerial committee headed by an additional secretary has been set up to look into the issue and any action will be taken only after its report.

"The mandate given to the committee is to examine and review non-availability of files/documents and suggest appropriate action," he said, adding the committee has held two meetings and documents are being located.

Amid slogan shouting by BJP, Jaiswal said some documents belonging to a period prior to 2004 are missing and alleged who had the interest in getting the files to pre-2004 period missing while pointing the needle of suspicion at NDA regime.

Earlier Jaitley alleged that "files don't disappear, they are made to disappear" and said, "the files contain evidences of arbitrary allotments...the evidence of crime are in those files...if files disappear, the possibility of their escaping the punishment for a crime is obviously there."    

He said destruction of evidence in a case being probed by CBI and monitored by Supreme Court is in itself a crime. "Has the minister registered any FIR? Have you taken any legal recourse," he asked.

There was uproar by the entire Opposition when Derek O'Brien (TMC) quoted a Congress spokesperson as saying, "the files are being re-written" and BJP raised slogans of "shame, shame".

Questioning the minister, Jaitley said, "Will you please tell us the list of those companies whose files have been made to miss or disappear...who are these people who are the beneficiaries."

Yechury also questioned Jaiswal if any FIR has been registered for the missing files, but the minister said a committee has been set up in this regard and any action will follow after its report.

Seeking to know how the files went missing, Yechury asked why the files were not sought from the CAG which had conducted a complete audit of the ministry that led to the coal scam.

Jaitley made a specific query if no file pertaining to post-2004 period was missing, but the Minister said this information was with CBI, leading to uproar.

He said the files did not go missing in 2004 but in 2013 during the time when Jaiswal was the minister.

The minister said if there was information about theft or destroying of files, an FIR would have been registered, but said since this was a case of missing files a Committee has been formed.

Earlier, asking the chair to seek a direction on who should make a statement on the issue, Najma Heptulla (BJP) cited her own example when she in the chair had given a ruling asking Ram Jethmalani not to speak on the stock scam as he was the retainer of Harshad Mehta's assets at the time.

Deputy chairman PJ Kurien, however, said the chair cannot direct the government to ask a specific minister to make a statement. The chair cannot presume any member or Minister to be guilty based on newspaper reports, saying if government wants it can make a statement.

Prasad said when the coal scam surfaced, the Prime Minister and others had repeatedly assured that proper investigation would be conducted.

"It is a serious issue. If there would be resistance, then we will be constrained to presume that there is something fishy," said Prasad on why Jaiswal is insisting to make a statement on the issue.


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