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We will reply to each and every allegation: Congress

September 10, 2012 22:33 IST

A final meeting of the Group of Ministers on setting up a coal sector regulator will be held in another week or ten days, Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid said on Monday.

He said the proposal to set up the regulator is already before the GoM and its final meeting will be held in another week or ten days.

Khurshid accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of misleading people over the coal mines allocation issue without being ready to debate it in Parliament.

As part of the Congress' strategy to articulate the party's stand on the issue -- which led to the wash-out of the recently-concluded monsoon session of parliament -- Khurshid addressed a press conference along with All India Congress Committee general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad, in-charge of party affairs in Andhra Pradesh.

Maintaining that the information over coal-gate was not thoroughly available to the people, Khurshid said 20 of the 57 blocks referred to in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report could not have been auctioned as there is a tariff through competitive bidding.

"Thereafter, 14 per cent royalty is paid. That should have been subtracted from 186. Thereafter, in case there is a profit at all, 33 per cent goes into corporate tax which comes
to government again.  So if you reduce 20 coal blocks, if you reduce 14 per cent royalty, if you reduce the corporate tax and you reduce whatever amount would have been left by the auction, there is perhaps no amount left on which one can argue that any money has been made unfairly by the private sector or has been loss to the government," he said referring to the CAG's estimate of the huge presumptive loss in coal blocks allocation.

Noting that there is an insinuation that the government delayed an auction and allowed some people to take benefit of the delay, Khurshid said the government followed the due process.

It takes time for a legislation (towards auctioning) to be passed and there was no delay, he argued.

"The question is while these two, three years it takes for this kind of legislation to pass, should we have stopped giving coal to cement, power, steel industry? We decided that the demand was growing, India was growing at nine per cent. There was a fear that prices of cement and steel will sky-rocket and therefore we felt coal supply should not be interrupted," he said.

While continuing with the screening committee procedure for allocating coal mines, the government tried to improve the process by taking steps like advertising, allowing checks to be conducted by state governments and including several other top officials in the exercise, he said.

"Whatever decision was taken in the screening committee was only endorsed by the political head who happened to be prime minister during that period. But the prime minister or any minister concerned had nothing to do with the procedure of the screening committee," he said.

The screening committee procedure was also suspended in 2008 once the legislation was moved towards auctioning, Khurshid said.

"At no point have we withdrawn or retreated from anything that we did or accepted that anything that happened was opaque, not transparent," he said.

Khurshid also distributed letters written to the Centre by the chief ministers of some opposition-ruled states who had disfavoured moving to the auctioning process.

Hitting out at the BJP for not debating the issue in Parliament, Khurshid said he would not have had to address the press conference had a debate taken place on the issue.

"The best forum is Parliament. The government will reply to each and every allegation. But they did not choose that forum. Had they chosen that forum, from our side we would have made it clear that there is no loss. BJP would have got exposed," Azad said.

"If they say they are coming to the streets, my answer to them is we will meet you on the streets," Khurshid said.

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