There are men, and then there are men who are of the salt of the earth. If former coal secretary PC Parakh is to be believed prime minister Manmohan Singh is not of the salt of the earth.
Singh lacked the guts to take on the coal mafia and impose his writ on his government and party, says Parakh in his book 'Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and Other Truths', which hit the stands on Monday.
The book spills the beans on the Rs 1.86 lakh crore coal scam. Coming close on the heels of Sanjay Baru's 'The Accidental Prime Minister', 'Crusader or Conspirator?' is another indictment of Singh, though this one, according to former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanium, "is not salacious gossip but facts".
Crusader or Conspirator?... pits the upright, inflexible bureaucrat against an insipid PM, corrupt members of parliament and ministers and easily manipulated officials. It paints Shibu Soren and Dasari Narayan Rao as villains for scuttling reforms and it puts Naveen Jindal in the dock for trying to influence policy.
The book lays bare the PM's soft underbelly: his indecisiveness, and total capitulation to his party. and to the machinations of a cabal of members of Parliament at large, irrespective of party, who Parakh has labelled as "blackmailers".
"I do not know if the country would have got a better prime minister if Dr Manmohan Singh had resigned instead of facing the humiliation of his own ministers not implementing or even reversing his decisions. By continuing to head a government in which he had little political authority, his image has been seriously dented by 2G and Coalgate although he has had a spotless record of personal integrity," writes Parakh.
Parakh narrates that soon after Singh took over as coal minister, Parakh's suggestion to open up the coal sector through commercial mining and allocation of coal blocks through competitive bidding was "scuttled" by the PMO and ministers against "transparency".
"A number of letters started pouring in from members of parliament opposing the proposed move towards the bidding system. This included one from Mr Naveen Jindal who had considerable interests in coal mining," Parakh writes.
But while stating that the PMO "at no time made recommendations or exert pressure in favour of any party", Parakh is scathing in his attack on the PM for his statement in Parliament on the CAG's report.
In the process he also dismisses the statements of P Chidambaram and Salman Khurshid, also made in Parliament, criticising the CAG as "so bereft of logic that they do not even merit comments."
Parakh writes that CAG Vinod Rai was not far off the mark when he stated in his report that the country lost Rs 1.86 lakh crore due the coal scam. "It's unfortunate that while the prime minister was keen on implementing open bidding, he was unable to counter vested interests within his government and party," Parakh writes. "The government's inability to take a right decision at a right time resulted in Coalgate and subsequent CBI investigations..."
In another reference to Naveen Jindal, who stood to gain directly from maintaining status quo in coal block allocations, Parakh writes: "In a TV interview Mr Naveen Jindal argued that all over the world mining properties are given free and governments receive revenue by way of royalty and taxes. I am not aware of any country where mining properties are given free.., In the US, federal coal properties and allocated through a bidding system since the early 1980s."
In the chapter, 'Appointment of the CMD Coal India: Blackmail by the Ministers', Parakh lines up instances when Coal India officials were "pestered" to make "monthly payments" to ministers if they wanted to be appointed to certain posts. "How can chiefs of central public sector undertakings and heads of the government departments control corruption in their organisations if they have to bribe ministers for
their appointments?" he asks.
Parakh, who was introduced by TSR as "un-influence-able", says he was influenced by Munshi Premchand's 'Namak Ka Daroga" which he read when he was a boy. "All my life I have stayed true to the character of the protagonist who refused to take bribes and was punished for being inflexible. But then he was also rewarded for being one of the salt of the earth. My reward has been a CBI raid," says Parakh, a man who's of the salt of the earth.