Those of us who thought Mamata Banerjee is above pettiness are dolts. The reality is, Didi would go to great lengths to further her political interests, PC Parakh, former coal secretary, says in his book 'Crusader or Conspirator?'
Mamata was the first coal minister Parakh served under. He took charge in Delhi when she was in Kolkata. For a week he waited for her to come to Delhi. She didn't turn up. So, lest she take umbrage, he flew to Kolkata to call on her, and met her in her spartan quarters in a lower middle class locality of the City of Joy.
"Ms Banerjee had commendable simplicity and there's no doubt about her personal integrity. But she was not immune to misuse her office for her party's interests," writes Parakh.
Mamata, says Parakh, "forced" then Coal India acting CMD Shashi Kumar to appoint 50 TMC workers as trainees, to be posted in the coal mines of the North Eastern Coal Fields Limited. "No procedure was followed in their selection: no advertisements, no tests, no interviews. A list of names was handed over to Mr Shashi Kumar and he was told to issue appointment orders. Mr Kumar told me none of these persons attended training. They used to simply mark attendance and attend to Ms Banerjee's party work."
Then, there's the case of a super-specialty hospital that Mamata wanted Coal India to set up in Kolkata. "The board had not approved such a proposal. She pressurised the CMD to pay Rs25 lakh to the Kolkata Municipal Corporation for eviction of squatters from the corporation land for setting up the hospital," says the former coal secretary.
Mamata also wanted certain eminent persons appointed as independent directors on the board of Neyveli Lignite Corporation dismissed and TMC men appointed in their place. "It was pointed out to her that the directors were appointed for a fixed tenure and that they had completed only a few months in office. But she ordered their appointment be terminated to make place for her nominees."
If Mamata was all about her party and to hell with rules, the coal minister who got Parakh's goat really and truly was Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, who "disappeared" for a while, after being arrested, and then returned to haunt Parakh.
It didn't take long for Parakh to get to know the real Shibu Soren, and his MoS Dasari Narayana Rao — neither of whom had any interest in the efficient running of the ministry. "Their interest was primarily in faster allocation of coal blocks, transfers of officials in coal companies, creating more employment in Coal India, and grant of coal linkages although no coal was available for new linkage."
Parakh says it was Soren and his MoS who killed the proposal for open bidding. "Mr Rao and Mr Soren joined forces to kill the proposal aimed at creating a transparent and objective method of allocation of coal blocks," writes Parakh, who never did get along with Soren. The feeling was mutual. Soren tried his best to get Parakh shunted out of the coal ministry, but failed.
The most serious charge Parakh levels against Soren and Rao is that of extorting money from officials of coal companies. If they demurred from paying, they were harassed to the point of desperation. He narrates the case of Shashi Kumar, acting CMD of Coal India, whose name was shortlisted for appointment as regular CMD.
"Ever since they joined, Mr Soren and Mr Rao had pestered Mr Kumar for monthly payments which he resisted. Just before the interview, an approach was made to him on behalf of the MoS who wanted a one-time payment of Rs50 lakh and a monthly payment of Rs10 lakh to appoint Mr Kumar as the regular CMD. Mr Kumar refused," says Parakh, confirming that Manmohan Singh listened to a bunch of corrupt ministers.
Dasari Narayana Rao's 'prasadam'
Towards the end of his book, in a contradiction of sorts, PC Parakh writes that minister of state for coal Dasari Narayana Rao and coal minister Shibu Soren were always "courteous and warm", and that Rao was very hospitable as well.
"Mr Rao used to generally have meetings and briefings at his residence. He was hospitable and used to entertain lavishly. He often sent us prasadam, and homemade Andhra pickles and chutneys. He also organised a farewell luncheon for me when I retired, inviting all the Andhra cadre officers in Delhi, and also presented gifts to my wife and me," says Parakh.