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Mr Prime Minister, what are you doing?

 | June 1, 2012

India now faces what is called the coal corruption.

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India has been sinking into scam after scam in the past couple of years. We have seen huge losses to the public exchequer – nay, to the man on the street, often the poorer man – during the Commonwealth Games, during the telecom spectrum affair and so on.

Now, we are faced with what is called the coal corruption.

Anna Hazare and his band of loyal followers, who have been heading a movement to cleanse the nation of all its ills, have charged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of having “abused his position by giving huge pecuniary benefits to private parties” in the allotment of coal blocks between 2004 and 2009.

As has been his long-standing habit, Manmohan has again masked his face with injured innocence.

“I will withdraw from public life if the allegations made against me are proved,” he said. “It is unfortunate that irresponsible allegations relating to irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks are being made without confirming facts.”

Admittedly, Manmohan is known to be clean. Even his bitterest enemies and fiercest critics have agreed with this without the slightest of hesitation. Scandals have floated around him, but have never touched him.

Yet, as the head of the country, the government and the cabinet, Manmohan has failed time and again by not intervening or stopping a scam the moment it begins.

For instance, his failure, which some have described as “wilful”, to prevent the spectrum scam led to humungous losses to India. Did he turn a blind eye? Was he forced to do that? Or, was he blissfully unaware of the corruption growing right under his chair?

Now, the coal graft, where the prime minister will find it hard to save himself.

A Comptroller and Auditor-General’s draft report, which recently came into the hands of The Times of India, said the “loss to the exchequer arising from the allotment of coal blocks to private parties was Rs 10.67 lakh crore”. This is six times higher than the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss from the 2G spectrum allocation.

Selling coal cheap

Although it was later said that the amount might not have been as high as this, and it might not have been exactly irregular to have sold coal cheap – if only to expand the market or take care of surplus supply – the question which is now being asked is whether the transactions were fair and transparent.

This issue assumes critical importance given the fact that Manmohan himself headed the Coal Ministry between 2006 and 2009 – a period when huge allocations went through.

Hazare and his team charged that “Dr Singh abused his position to give huge pecuniary benefits to private parties, which is an offence under Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act… A public servant is said to commit the offence of criminal misconduct, if he, while holding office as a public servant, obtains for any person any valuable thing or pecuniary advantage without any public interest”.

In this case, private players made attractive gains from the coal allotments, and these did not benefit the larger public interest or, in other words, the country as a whole.

I say this again, Manmohan may be a good man, and Indians are not questioning his personal integrity.

What they are, is his public responsibility to a nation where millions are starving, where millions have no access to germ-free drinking water or basic health care or primary education.

In a country such as this, even a rupee pocketed through unfair means is sacrilege.

So, may we ask, Mr Prime Minister what are you doing?

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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