NEW DELHI: The UPA government on March 22, got an important bailout from none other than the Comptroller and Auditor General in the alleged coal blocks scam as the CAG wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh categorically denying news reports that a CAG report said the government lost Rs 10.7 lakh crore by not auctioning coal blocks and favoured about 100 entities in allocation of 155 coalfields between 2004 and 2009.
The matter assumes seriousness in view of the fact that the Prime Minister held Coal Minister’s portfolio for some time of the period mentioned in the media reports.
The government promptly released an edited version of the CAG’s letter to the PM which said the CAG “thinking” had been changed, that there was no inference of a loss to the national exchequer and that the media reports were “exceedingly misleading”. The government released a paragraph from the CAG’s letter to the PM which says thus: “In the extant case the details being brought out were observations which are under discussion at a very preliminary stage and do not even constitute our pre-final draft and hence are exceedingly misleading.… Pursuant to clarification provided by the Ministry in exit conferences held on February 9, 2012 and March 9, 2012, we have changed our thinking… In fact it is not even our case that the unintended benefit to the allocatee is an equivalent loss to the exchequer. The leak of the initial draft causes great embarrassment as the Audit Report is still under preparation. Such leakage causes very deep anguish.”
The Opposition got fresh fodder after media reports of the coal blocks scam, allegedly six times bigger than the 2G scam, and stalled proceedings in both Houses of Parliament. Even the Samajwadi Party, which bailed out government on the NCTC issue in Parliament in past two days, joined the BJP and the Left parties in criticizing the government on the alleged newest scam.
Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal asserted that the coal blocks were allocated only after all the state governments were consulted. He also added that the government had placed advertisements in newspapers and invited bids for the coal fields in question.
Sriprakash Jaiswal, Union Coal Minister: If we receive the CAG report, we will analyse it and then take action. I am coal minister only in the UPA-2 and during this time no coal block has been given.
Prakash Javadekar, BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member: This Congress-led UPA Government is looting the country. It's a loot raj. We have given notices under various rules today and will discuss with the leaders and decide the plan of action. But this government has lost its right to continue in power.
D Raja, CPI leader and Rajya Sabha member: It is a serious scam, a very big scam. In fact all these scams are taking place because of the wrong policies pursued by the government furthering all corporate houses, big business houses in the country. Why the government did not go for the auction route? It is for the Prime Minister to explain the position of the government.
Sitaram Yechury, CPI (M) leader and Rajya Sabha member: This is a bigger scam then 2G. This should be investigated. We raised this issue when we were in the government (in UPA-1).
BJP and Left criticise Union budget
NEW DELHI: Principal Opposition parties, the BJP and the Left, criticised the Union budget 2012-13 on expected lines.
BJP spokesman Shahnawaz Hussain said that common people have been burdened with proposed imposing of around Rs 40 thousand crore through indirect taxes. CPI’s Gurudas Dasgupta termed the budget as “directionless” and said it will not help in turning around of the country’s economy. CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury said extra burden of indirect tax had been imposed on the people which was not the right way to control fiscal deficit.
The CPI(M) issued an elaborate statement describing the budget as “regressive” which will result in pushing up prices and imposing greater burdens on the working people. It said the bias towards the corporates and the rich in this budget is seen from the fact that while the direct taxes being levied from the rich will result in a loss of rupees 4500 crores, that from indirect taxes, that is through the increase in across the board service and excise duties, is expected to yield a gain of Rs 45,940 crores. While the CPI (M) welcomed taxes on luxury items, it strongly opposed the reliance on indirect taxes for revenue mobilisation as this will lead to a cascading impact pushing up prices across the board. The party also opposed the cut in subsidies fuel to as much as Rs 25,000 crore rupees, arguing that it would inevitably lead to further hikes in fuel prices. Besides, the cut in subsidies to fertilizers by Rs 6000 crore will also lead to further price rise of fertilizers, it said. (RS)
UPA to bring a White Paper on black money
NEW DELHI: Under fire from the Opposition and the civil society alike on the issue of black money, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced in his budget speech in the Lok Sabha on March 16 that the government will lay a white paper on black money in Parliament during the current session.
Mukherjee also announced an advancement in tracking the trail of black money menace and said his Budget proposals for 2012-13 envision a multi-pronged strategy to prevent the generation and circulation of black money and its illegitimate transfer outside India. To ensure transparency and efficiency in the public procurement process, the government will introduce a bill in the current session of Parliament. Mukherjee informed the House that the following legislative measures for strengthening anti-corruption framework are in various stages of enactment:
* Prevention of Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2011 introduced in Parliament with a view to bring certain provisions of the act in line with global standards;
* Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2011 is currently being examined by the Standing Committee on Finance. It would replace the ‘Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988; and
* National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Amendment) Bill, 2011 introduced in Parliament with a view to strengthen legal provisions for implementation of the national policy on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
The Finance Minister stated that the UPA government has already taken a number of measures to curb the menace of black money. He cited some steps already initiated by the government in this regard. As many as 82 Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA) and 17 Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA) have been finalised and information regarding bank accounts and assets held by Indians abroad has started flowing in. In some cases prosecution will be initiated, Mukherjee said. Besides, dedicated exchange of information cell for speedy exchange of tax information with treaty countries is fully functional in CBDT. India became the 33rd signatory of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. Apart from this, a Directorate of Income Tax Criminal Investigation has been established in CBDT. (RS)