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The Coal block allocation scam and all events surrounding it bear a strong resemblance to the entire 2G scam drama. A senior Minister formulating or following a policy that resulted in three  unfortunate and unwarranted implications: a massive loss to the exchequer; a windfall gain to private entities; and the plundering of a national resource. Arguably, parallels can be drawn between former Telecom Minister A. Raja and Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. While Dr. Singh’s personal integrity has rarely been questioned thus far, the ‘Coalgate’ scam has cast serious aspersions over his honesty. A brief study of the CAG report would convince most readers of the fact that there was something more unnatural than mere ‘unusual’ in the manner in which coal blocks were ‘allocated’ to private entities. Especially, during the period in which Dr. Singh held additional charge of the Coal Ministry.

Here is a summary of the exact allegation on the Prime Minister, (first made by India Against Corruption (Team Anna) during their onslaught against fifteen Cabinet ministers and then followed up by the Opposition since the tabling of the CAG report in the Rajya Sabha.)

Dr. Manmohan Singh is the Prime Minister since May 2004 and was personally in-charge of the Coal Ministry from November 2006 to May 2009. The average allotment of coal blocks was 3-4 per year until a few years back. But this number shot up drastically to 22-24 during 2006-09 when Dr. Singh was in charge, raising questions about the manner in which these allotments were made. All the allotments were made without protecting the interest of public exchequer, and without following any competitive process.

 
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The current Coal Minister was up in arms the day after the CAG report was out and criticised the Auditor stating that it’s methods of loss calculation were flawed. His justification for the sudden increase in allocations was that “Coal India alone could not have met the demand” for coal production which is required in electricity generation. Fair enough, one would say. However, the fact is most of the ‘beneficiary’ companies who were allocated the blocks were ineligible to receive them. Many of them got the allocations based on false representations and claims of tie ups with companies that don’t even exist!

For a moment, let us assume that the Prime Minister or the Congress did not receive any monetary gain for committing this ‘lapse in governance.’ If the CEO of a company commits such a mistake and his company faces a presumptive loss to the tune of lakhs of crores of rupees, he has no option but to resign! All his defence and explanation has to wait. So, why should there be different standards for the Prime Minister of a country? We are the shareholders or stakeholders of this country and we deserve accountability. If we have lost so much money, and Dr. Singh is responsible for it – it is only fair that he must go.

This entire week, the Parliament was not allowed to function as the BJP-led Opposition continued to disallow business in the House to demand Dr. Singh’s resignation. Whether or not the obstructionism is justified is in a grey area. On the one hand, the country has lost far more money through the Coalgate scam, than it would lose because of the Parliament not functioning. On the other hand, there are a number of Bills pending which need to be discussed soon. In another attempt to defend the Government, Finance Minister P Chidambaram repeated the notorious ‘zero loss’ claim made to protect A. Raja during the 2G scam issue by Kapil Sibal. He said, “I deeply regret the presumptive loss concept as it is totally flawed. If coal is not mined, where is the loss? The loss will only occur if coal is sold at a certain price or under valued.” If I have understood the Finance Minister correctly, a car thief who does not use or sell the stolen vehicles has not caused any loss to the owner of the cars! Assuming the people to be so naive, is an insult to his fellow Indians’ sensibilities.

 
I think the key takeaway from all of this is that we need to caution ourselves against an attitude that has gradually seeped into our society : The constant bombardment of reports of corruption scams has made us ‘accustomed’ to hearing about them. The outburst after the 2G scam was much larger than after the Coalgate scam, even though the latter was on a larger scale. This shows that we are now ‘getting used’ to those in power making mistakes and money. We are learning to accept it as a reality – a part of our life. If we want to be able to fight corruption, we cannot let this attitude take over.
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