As the Supreme Court on Monday held the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) regimes responsible for doling coal mines illegally and without application of mind, the country's political class was up against one another, with the kettle, calling the pot black.
Realising that among other issues, corruption in coal block allocation too was responsible for rocking the Congress' boat in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections, the party on Monday said the court order had vindicated it. The party gloated that the court had uttered similar words as the party had been using in its attempt to explain to the public during its election campaign — that former prime minister Manmohan Singh was implementing the policy designed by its predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "The Supreme Court has robbed the BJP its moral standing, with which it went around during the last Lok Sabha polls, blaming the Congress for corruption and stealing coal," said party spokesman Shakeel Ahmed.
Shakeel said that the UPA government had even reformed the process by setting up a screening committee that included chief secretaries of respective states. "The chief secretaries of states were given right to recommend companies to whom coal blocks could be allocated," he said and added that between 1998 and 2004, during the NDA rule, advertisements inviting companies to bid for coal blocks were never issued.
Government sources, however, were praying that the apex court should let atleast 30 companies off the hook, who have set up infrastructure to extract coal from the mines. They admitted that the judgement would dampen investor spirit, but were confident that it will also cleanse future operations. "We only hope that the court order will not disrupt the economic wheel that has started moving, but the fact is that it will take a hit," a senior government official told dna.
The government, on the other side, vowed to act quickly once the court delivers its final judgement. "The fact that this has brought to finality and closure a dispute or problem that has been for many years is a big plus for the Indian economy. I think, in fact, they should have been immensely pleased that the economy can now move forward rapidly rather than being cast with the shadow of uncertainty," the minister for coal and power, Piyush Goal, said. The clarity of law in policy and certainty of future, he said, were "hallmarks of a good economy and will be liked by the investor community", when asked if it would impact investor confidence.
India is the world's third-largest coal producer after China and the United States, but output has struggled to keep up with consumer demand for electricity. The government handed out coal fields for a nominal cost to operators who promised to use the coal for their own power, steel and cement projects.
But such was the loot for coal blocks that one company, new to the steel business and owned by the sons of Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Prem Chand Gupta, applied for a coal block when Gupta was the Union minister for corporate affairs. The company got the block a month after Gupta's tenure ended along with that of his government. Names of two other Congress leaders, Subodh Kant Sahay and Vijay Darda, have also figured in the scam.