'The UPA government should have cancelled the coal allocations after the CAG report was tabled in 2012. Instead, its ministers ridiculed the CAG report and the losses enumerated in it. They thus lost a very important opportunity to stop and contain the national loss,' BJP MP Hansraj Ahir, who red-flagged the issue in 2005, tells Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com.
The Supreme Court on September 24 quashed the allocation of 214 out of 218 coal blocks which were allotted to various companies since 1993.
Hansraj Ahir, the Bharatiya Janata Party member of Parliament, who had blown the whistle on the coal scam way back in 2005, feels vindicated.
In an interview with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com shortly after the Supreme Court verdict, Ahir blamed then prime minister Manmohan Singh for the scam and claimed that there were 20 more crimes related to the coal scam that still needed to be investigated.
Are you happy with the Supreme Court verdict?
I wholeheartedly welcome the Supreme Court verdict. It is an excellent verdict delivered by the apex court that will stop the loot of natural resources that the country has seen. The verdict has upheld the dignity of the highest court in India.
I have been fighting against this loot since 2006.
When did you first detect that there was a scam brewing in the allocation of coal blocks?
In 2004, I became the member of the Standing Committee on Coal and Steel. After going through documents I realised that there was something improper about these coal allocations.
I continued studying various documents and registered my first complaint in 2005 to Shibu Soren (then the coal minister). But the complaint was only about the coal block allocation in Maharashtra (Ahir is the MP from Chandrapur).
Later, when I delved further into the issue and laid hands on certain official documents, I found out that these blocks were doled out for free.
In 2006, I wrote letters to P Chidambaram (then the finance minister) and (then Planning Commission deputy chairman) Montek Singh Ahluwalia. I asked them to levy some surcharge on the coal mined to generate some revenues; they responded very positively.
Ahluwalia prepared a Planning Commission report on the matter and sent it to the prime minister. Chidambaram also agreed with the proposal, but then they poured cold water on this proposal.
When they did not pursue the matter further I started writing to the PM.
What was the outcome of your letters to Dr Manmohan Singh?
I started writing letters to Dr Manmohan Singh in 2006 in which I objected to free disbursal of natural resources like coal.
While Chidambaram and Ahluwalia did acknowledge my letters and my standpoint, Dr Singh just acknowledged that he was in receipt of my letters.
I still have those 15 letters with me that I had written to him.
It was only when the report of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India came out that the government started taking some cognisance of the matter.
When the CAG report came out, why didn't you file a public interest litigation?
In my opinion, the matter should not have reached the Supreme Court in the first place. That is the reason I never felt it necessary to file a PIL.
The then government should have cancelled the coal allocations after the CAG report was tabled in 2012.
Instead, all UPA ministers, including Salman Khurshid and then minister for coal Sriprakash Jaiswal, ridiculed the CAG report and the losses enumerated in it.
They should have taken cognisance of the 2012 CAG report and cancelled the allocations two years ago.
They lost a very important opportunity to stop and contain the national loss.
Who do you hold responsible for this coal block allocation scam?
Dr Manmohan Singh is the biggest culprit. While I reiterate and welcome the Supreme Court decision, there are 20 more crimes that still needs to be investigated.
Chief among them being:
- Damaging the efficiency of Coal India with a criminal purpose
- Conspiracy to finish off Coal India
- Many Coal India office bearers resigned from the company and joined private companies
Because of all these crimes the nation had to face a huge shortfall of coal availability and so import it, leading to outflow of foreign exchange.
There was a big conspiracy to undermine India's self-sufficiency and kill Coal India. I think all this has come out today after the cancellation of these 214 coal blocks.
More than the politicians of the day and industrialists, I hold the coal ministry and top officials of Coal India responsible for the entire mess.
Sriprakash Jaiswal, Santosh Bagrodia, Shibu Soren and Dasari Narayan Rao are all equally responsible for this national loot of coal resources.
Of course, the biggest of them all who should take the responsibility is Dr Manmohan Singh.
You blame Coal India for this scam.
Right from the chairman and managing director to board directors there were 11 members of Coal India who would be part of the screening committees that made recommendations for allocations of coal blocks to various companies.
Former coal secretary P C Parakh also said the same thing that I had written in my letters about these members of Coal India.
But he said nothing during his tenure as coal secretary and opened his mouth only after retirement.
Where do you think the CBI inquiry into the coal scam is heading now? Do you think the investigations are being done fairly?
I would not like to comment on this. Now that the Supreme Court has given its verdict that the coal block allocations were done in an illegal and ad hoc manner, the CBI's responsibility has increased manifold.
The CBI's dignity and fairness are at stake now.