Defending the UPA government over coal block allocations, Union law minister Salman Khurshid on Monday said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had nothing to do with the procedure of the screening committee which handled the allocations.
Addressing a join press conference with health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad in Hyderabad, Khurshid gave point-to-point rebuttal to the opposition allegations against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
On a day when Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari attacked the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), the country's official auditor, by questioning the credibility of its report on the coal blocks allocation, the law minister said the government had not said anything against CAG.
"We have not said anything against CAG. We only disagree with CAG," he said
Khurshid asserted that the opposition had nothing to say over the issue and hence they did not allow the issue to come up for debate in parliament.
"Had the CAG report been discussed in PAC (public accounts committee), we would not have come here to address a press conference," he said.
He claimed that CAG report did not say the government lost the money in coal allocation but merely commented that it facilitated Rs. 186,000 crore made by the private industry.
"The CAG report said some of it could have been tapped by government by way of auction. It did not say how much could have been tapped," he said.
Targeting the opposition for their criticism of Manmohan Singh, the minister said: "We must trust people in the highest office."
Khurshid denied that the government delayed auctions to allow some players to take benefit and said the government followed the normal process.
"It takes time for this kind of a legislation to be passed. The law ministry proposed amendment to MMRDA (Mines and Minerals (Regulation and Development) Act) in 2008. The amendment was introduced in parliament which went to Standing Committee and it felt the states need to be consulted. It was passed only in 2010," he said.
The minister said the opposition, especially Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states opposed the process of auction at that time but were now questioning the government why the coal blocks were not auctioned.
He pointed out that out 57 blocks referred to in the CAG report, 20 were for the power sector, and they could not be auctioned because there was a tariff through competitive bidding.
He also said the government could not have stopped coal supply to power and steel industry while waiting for the legislation to pass.
On the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allocation of some blocks, he said the investigating agency began the probe following complaints made in respect of four or five blocks.
"The CBI has registered five cases. If CBI wants to conduct the inquiry we have no problems. It is an autonomous and independent body. It can investigate," he said while adding that if anybody is aggrieved with the CBI, he is free to approach the court.
Azad accused BJP of deliberately not allowing parliament to function so as to deprive people from hearing what the government has to say.
"Parliament was the best forum to clear whatever misgivings they had," he added.