Opposition wants PM to go over coal mines; Congress says he will stay (Roundup)

New Delhi, April 23 (IANS) Irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks disrupted both houses of parliament Tuesday with the government and the Congress rejecting the opposition’s demand for the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar over the issue and a parliamentary panel suggesting cancellation of all mines given since 1993.

Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha were repeatedly disrupted before being adjourned for the day as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) noisily demanded the resignation of both Manmohan Singh and Ashwani Kumar, who allegedly toned down a CBI affidavit related to the coal blocks issue.

“The BJP parliamentary party has decided that the prime minister should resign and the law minister should be removed in the light of the series of scams and the brazen way in which the government has sought to suppress the truth from coming out,” party spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad told reporters here.

He said the coal blocks affidavit, in which the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) was being “pressurised”, was also discussed at the meeting.

“In this, Law Minister Ashwini Kumar and the Prime Minister’s Office have a role. Ashwini Kumar was trying to correct the grammar of the CBI affidavit. Since when did CBI need an English tutor like the law minister,” he retorted.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi rebuffed the BJP’s demand.

“Let them ask,” Gandhi told reporters.

Gandhi also met the prime minister, along with senior cabinet ministers, before the report was tabled in the Lok Sabha.

The Communist Party of India (CPI) too demanded Manmohan Singh’s resignation, saying he had not done his job and was guilty of “dereliction of duty”.

“The prime minister should resign,” Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta told reporters here.

“The prime minister is guilty of dereliction of duty on a number of counts. He has not done his job, he has failed to keep his commitment to the country. He has to protect the interests of the nation, which he has repeatedly not done,” he said.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath rejected the demand.

“There is no basis to the demand for the PM’s resignation,” he said.

However, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav supported the government, saying his party did not believe that the Congress-led UPA government has interfered with the CBI report.

Asked if his party believed that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government manipulated the CBI report, Mulayam Singh said: “We do not believe so, but we believe that the government should give an explanation.”

The SP chief also said that the coal block allocation scam was not the most important issue faced by the nation.

“China has occupied 12 km land along the border, that is a more serious issue. Why is the media ignoring it,” he asked.

Kalyan Banerjee, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on the coal ministry, added to the government’s woes by saying that all the coal blocks allocated since 1993 were illegal, the licences should be cancelled and those responsible for the allocation should be investigated.

“The entire allocation needs investigation. The entire distribution (of coal blocks) was unauthorised. It should be be cancelled,” Banerjee, a Trinamool Congress member of the Lok Sabha, told reporters after the committee’s report was tabled in the lower house.

“The commencement of production only from only 30 blocks out of the total allocated 218 puts a question mark on the process,” he said.

But Banerjee could not quantify the loss in the allocations, saying the “coal ministry did not give us any detail despite repeated requests”.

According to the panel, such allocation of huge natural resources has not generated sufficient revenue for the government but had only benefited private players.

Congress spokesperson P.C. Chacko said the issue was “serious” but it was not proper to comment as the matter was being examined by the Supreme Court.

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