Coal Spill

Illustrations: Anand Naorem

THE ISSUE of allocation of natural resources has been at the centre of the debate on corruption. From the Supreme Court to the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) to anti-corruption crusaders like Team Anna, all have slammed the UPA for allocating precious natural resources like 2G spectrum, minerals and land to private hands at a fraction of their market price. It was the CAG that had first exposed how the telecom policy was manipulated to favour select companies at the cost of public interest. A new CAG report, this time on coal block allocation, has put the spotlight on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for alleged corrupt policy-making, causing a revenue loss of several thousands of crores of rupees. Politically, the coal allocation scam has far greater implications for the UPA than the 2G swindle.

During the five years of UPA-1, Manmohan Singh was also the coal minister for about three and a half years. The junior minister in the coal ministry was always a Congressman. Yet the PM failed to introduce the policy of competitive bidding for captive coal block allocations, despite having given an in-principle approval to it within the first six months of his tenure as prime minister.

In more ways than one, the story of the coal scam encapsulates the story of the UPA. It shows how an indecisive and ineffective leader is as deleterious for the country as an outright corrupt one. The story proves that the 2G scam was no aberration for which the blame could be placed at the doors of a rogue minister from another political party. Rather, it shows that the malaise of private profiteering and crony capitalism ran deep in the UPA establishment. A figurehead PM with bona fide intentions was continually hobbled by vested interests at every turn. And whenever an occasion arose where the choice lay between taking a stand and looking the other way, the PM opted for the latter.

But before we get into the details of the story, here are some broad facts of the coal scam.

For a full six years, different vested interests — among them Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, who became coal minister thrice, and the Congress’ own MOS for coal, Dasari Narayana Rao, who, instead of supporting the PM, sided with Soren — joined forces to thwart the proposed auction policy on one pretext or the other. During these five years, the draft Cabinet note proposing auctioning of coal blocks, prepared on the instructions of the PM, was amended about half-a-dozen times, ostensibly to address the concerns of those who were opposed to auctioning. But each time the note was amended, a new litany of objections were raised.


  1. The apex court may like to follow the principle that all natural resources ought to be disposed of by auction, mandated by it in the 2 G case, and restore ownership of these priceless coal blocks to the nation.


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