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Coal scam: Congress hardens its stand as BJP softens

Tuesday, 4 September 2012 - 9:30am IST Updated: Tuesday, 4 September 2012 - 1:01am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

Ministers dare party to fight in Parliament; inter-ministerial group to hear firms.

Indicating a hardening of stance on the part of the ruling coalition, three Union ministers — P Chidambaram, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Bansal — rebuffed the BJP’s demand for cancellation of the allocation of all the 142 coals blocks and a judicial inquiry into the scam. The government’s tough stand means the logjam in Parliament will continue for the remaining four days of the monsoon session.

Meanwhile, an inter-ministerial group (IMG), which met on Monday, finalised the guidelines for forfeiting the bank guarantees of licensee companies that have failed to achieve the required milestones for developing coal mines.  Sources said the IMG will proportionately deduct bank guarantees of at least 15 of the companies. An amount of over Rs300 crore is likely to be forfeited from the bank guarantees of these companies.

The concerned companies will get a chance to present their case on September 6, 7 and 8 after which the panel will give its final verdict on whether these companies should be asked to surrender their coal blocks along with bank guarantees. The meeting, headed by additional secretary (coal), Zohra Chatterji, lasted for three hours.

Coming down hard on the BJP, Khurshid said the party’s unwillingness to let Parliament function was resulting in a loss to the national economy. “The BJP should stop playing smart. For once, it should be honest. Instead of making one demand and then replacing it with a nuanced climbdown, it should come to Parliament for a debate without pre-conditions,” he said.

“They are overlooking the enormous loss they are causing to the dignity and honour of Parliament. They are overlooking the loss they are causing to the national economy by making such demands,” Khurshid said.

In an elaborate response, Union finance minister P Chidambaram said the allocation of coal blocks cannot be cancelled simply because a political party is making that demand. “The cancellation of these allocations demands that a fair process should be followed. This process is being followed right now, and an inter-ministerial group is looking into each of the allocations on a case by case basis. The government is expected to have the guidelines by September 15,” he told reporters at a special party briefing.

Chidambaram said the BJP’s demand for an inquiry has come a bit late as the CBI is already conducting a probe. “Just as the CBI is conducting a probe into the allocations of iron ore mines in Karnataka, it is looking into these coal block allocations,” he said. He termed the BJP’s demand for the prime minister’s ouster as outrageous. 

The finance minister said the BJP should return to Parliament as the prime minister has already gone out of his way to offer a discussion on the CAG report.”The normal process of having a discussion on a CAG report after it has been processed by the PAC has been bypassed, and the prime minister had already made a statement. This can be the starting point of a debate, and the opposition should accept it,” Chidambaram said.

Conceding that there is very little likelihood of the opposition returning to Parliament for a debate, parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal said the government will go ahead with the passage of bills if there is broad consensus among all parties. ‘We have passed six bills so far, and we expect that some others will also be pushed through,” he said.

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