The Reluctant Investigator?
Speaking to reporters at Thiruvananthapuram on September 7 this year, BJP leader and Public Accounts Committee Chairman Dr Murli Manohar Joshi had alleged that the UPA government was “afraid” of coming before the PAC on the CAG findings on coal block allocation and was “shielding” the corrupt. “The government has the chance to explain its position before the PAC, but is not ready to explain to the people of the country on the issue and is shielding the guilty.”
The controversy over coal block allocations had taken the country by storm after the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was tabled in Parliament on August 17. The report said that there had been an estimated loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to the government from allocation of 57 coal blocks to companies without competitive bidding. The allocations were made in the coal producing states of Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Joshi had further castigated the Prime Minister for his remarks on the CAG’s report. Joshi had said that after the PM had trashed the report, calling the calculations of the CAG wrong and motivated, it was a futile exercise of the PAC to examine and give its report. He had said that the Prime Minister’s remark amounted to pre-empting the enquiry of the PAC.
It seems that as the Chairman of the PAC, Joshi has taken his own statement to heart and given up on a proper enquiry into the scam. Odisha was the first state chosen by the PAC for its enquiry as the state government had a stated policy in the public domain on its recommendations for coal block allocation. The government earlier admitted that it had recommended 42 companies for coal block allocations, most of them private companies.
Joshi and his team were to arrive on November 2, but he decided a last minute skip and sent the parliamentary committee under the leadership of senior BJD leader and MP Bathruhari Mahtab. This move by him had taken both the state Congress and the BJP by surprise.
The seven-member PAC team arrived in Bhubaneswar on November 2, and had a review meeting with the state government officials as well as senior officials of the Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL). Soon after the meeting the state government and MCL officials, Mahtab was quick to give a clean chit to the BJD-led government, and blamed the central government for irregularities in the allotment of coal blocks. Speaking to reporters at Bhubaneswar, he said “The central government allotted the coal blocks in a highly arbitrary manner.”
The Comptroller and Auditor General had, in its report, questioned the manner in which some of the coal blocks in Odisha were allotted on the recommendation of the state government. Two of these blocks are already under the scanner of the CBI which is probing into the multi-crore coal scam. In fact, the CBI recently raided the house and office of a businessman in the state in connection with the scam.
This comment from Mahtab was expected, but under the prevailing circumstances, when BJP, both at the centre and in the state, was going full guns blazing on the coal scam, Joshi’s move to absent himself has raised many eyebrows. In fact the state BJP had planned a press conference during the visit that never happened.
The Congress, the main opposition party in the state, has described the important tour as a cover-up mission to protect the Biju Janata Dal.
The PCC Chief Niranjan Patnaik questioned Joshi’s decision to skip the tour in the last minute. He said: “Joshi has once again confirmed the increasing nexus between the BJD and the BJP. His decision to depute Mahtab to lead the PAC team has also put a question mark on the intention of the committee. How can a parliamentary committee headed by a BJD member do a proper investigation on the allegations against the BJD government in the state?” Another Congress leader Kailash Acharya said, “Joshi owes an explanation to the people of Odisha. The PAC team seemed to have come to the state on a pleasure trip.”
The state BJP leaders chose to stay mum, the scepter of another imposed coalition hangs heavily on their heads. It is no secret that Naveen Patnaik has been kow-towing with the BJP leadership at Delhi, while the state leaders are still smarting under the drubbing they got in the last elections. However, the political analysts maintain that the BJP high command has a pretty low opinion of the state leadership, and the writing is on the wall that there would be a coalition with the BJD, pre or post poll. Joshi’s absence has only fuelled the fire of the rumours that are going around.
By Sudhanshu Jain from Bhubaneswar