Indian PM jeered while attempting to defend his actions in ‘coalgate’ affair
Indian MPs chanting “quit prime minister” drowned out Manmohan Singh yesterday as he sought to defend his government’s role in an affair dubbed “coalgate” that has created a sense of political crisis.
The controversy has stalled reform efforts at a time when the Indian economy is suffering a sharp slowdown.
“Coalgate” refers to a state auditor’s report published on 17 August that questioned the government’s practice of awarding coal mining concessions to companies without competitive bidding, potentially costing the treasury billions in lost revenues.
“I wish to say that any allegations of impropriety are without basis and unsupported by facts,” said Mr Singh.
Until yesterday, Mr Singh had been silent about the report, which partly covered a period when he was also coal minister – a silence that has been politically costly as it allowed the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to keep the government on the defensive.
While the state auditor’s report did not allege criminal wrongdoing by Mr Singh’s fragile coalition government, it did raise concerns about the non-transparent practice of awarding coal blocks by an inter-ministerial committee, which it said unduly benefited private and state power and steel companies.
On the eve of a trip to Iran, Mr Singh appeared in the lower house of parliament to offer a comprehensive rebuttal of the main allegations in the auditor’s report, but only managed to utter a few words before the din forced him to sit down. “Prime minister tender your resignation,” opposition MPs shouted.
Mr Singh met the same reception in the upper house of parliament later. His office instead posted his defence on Twitter.
“I wish to say that any allegations of impropriety are without basis,” Mr Singh’s office tweeted.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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