The arbitrary and discretionary allocation of 142 coal blocks is the latest albatross round the neck of the United Progressive Alliance government. The arrogant and despotic government did not realise when the allocations were made that it would be held accountable for each of these coal block allocations.
The Comptroller and Auditor General has based its' report on the allocation of these coal blocks primarily on the ground that after a decision was taken to switch over to the competitive bidding system it took the government eight years to implement the said decision.
During this eight year period 142 coal blocks were allocated to private entrepreneurs most of whom were traders and not actual users. Since the screening committee mechanism did not realise the actual value of the coal blocks a monumental loss has been suffered by the public exchequer.
The eight year delay is on account of an objection raised by the Prime Minister's Office, an incorrect opinion given by the law ministry, inordinate delay in drafting an amendment to the law and an inexplicable delay in implementing the amended law. Each of the reasons for delay does not appear to be bonafide.
For almost five out of the eight years the prime minister was the coal minister. He was assisted by a minister of state. The corridors of power in Delhi are full of information being provided by the then bureaucrats, the successful applicants and more particularly the unsuccessful applicants.
These informations reflect a sad commentary on the functioning of the UPA government. These information reveal
A case of inefficiency, lack of leadership, delay in the exercise of power for colorable purpose. Over eight years were wasted in not implementing the competitive bidding policy so that 142 successful entrepreneurs could be arbitrarily selected.
The screening committee mechanism was a farce. Individual writ of few people who were running the government influenced the decision.
Some of the ministers of state did not come out with any credit. Their role in these allotments appears to be dubious. Successful applicants were asked to associate one or more co-allottees by the ministry.
These were inevitably the political nominees. Disturbing information has surfaced that a valuable public resource was being allocated arbitrarily with the underlying condition of political funding of the party in power.
The officials in the PMO who dealt with the coal ministry files were not unaware of what was going on. Many allottees were traders and not actual users.
Several allotments have been made without the recommendation of the State governments.
The whole process of allocation of coal blocks stinks. This raises a larger question of how the Indian state should allocate natural resources. A rudderless government suffering from policy paralysis has sought advisory opinion of the Supreme Court on this larger question.
Allocation of natural resources is an issue squarely within the policy domain. Formulation of policy is an executive function; it is not a judicial function. The court can merely strike down a policy if it is arbitrary or unconstitutional. The court cannot frame a policy.
Which tangible natural resources should be auctioned and which could be allotted on some alternative fair criteria is an issue to be decided by the government. The courts are an institution empowered to judicially review a decision of the government.
If the government formulates a policy which opens the flood gates for corruption, the courts can strike down the policy. What would happen if the courts were to advice the formulation of such an arbitrary policy?
Indian politics is passing through a crisis. The power of politics is immense but the stature of some of the men administering polity is relatively small. It bears no nexus to the extent of power that the polity exercises.
As a part of the process of political and governance reforms discretions have to be minimised and eliminated. Every decision of the government has to be based on reason and rationality.
Mineral is a valuable natural resource. It occupies an important space in the expansion and development of the Indian economy. Its' allocation both in the Centre and the States through a discretionary process has led to serious charges of corruption.
Recent experiences are persuasive enough for the government to legitimise the policy where such allotment of mineral as a tangible resource is made only through a transparent and open bidding system. There is no substitute for such a policy today.
It has been suggested that since the prime minister himself was the coal minister we should assume that this decision was fair. The PMO is a sacred institution in Indian democracy.
It has to be judged by standards much harsher than those which would apply to ministers such as former telecom minister A Raja. If the process of allocation by the PM as a coal minister smacks of arbitrariness it shakes our national conscience.
The onus is now on the prime minister to accept the responsibility for what has happened.
Suggestions that the issue should be debated only in the Parliament will put a lid on one of the greatest scandals in Indian history. We, in the Opposition, are not interested in merely the issue being talked out through a one-day debate in Parliament.
A debate is an essential ingredient of Parliament but so is accountability. If a debate is being used today to put a lid on accountability then an alternative strategy is necessary. Parliamentary obstructionism should ordinarily be avoided.
However, in the rarest of rare cases, obstructionism also bring its dividends. The country lost a valuable session of parliament in December 2010 on the issue of 2G spectrum scam. However, the obstructionism led to Raja's resignation, charge-sheets for criminal prosecutions, a Joint Parliamentary Committee, the auctioning of the 3G spectrum and now the surplus 2G spectrum which will bring an enormous amount of revenue back to the government.
The experience of the 2G spectrum reveals that the government used the reference of the CAG report to the Public Accounts Committee for a cover up. The government itself has now fixed Rs 14,000 crore as a base price for the 2G spectrum auction as against the price of Rs 1,658 crore at which the spectrum was allotted in 2008.
The PAC is not being allowed to come to the same conclusion by obstructing Members who are helping the ruling alliance. When parliamentary institutions are subverted and accountability is not permitted, the polity must invent new tactics so that the principle of accountability is not sacrificed.
Debate and accountability must co-exist.
by Arun Jaitley
Cambridge Analytica: BJP Accuses Congress of “Misuse of Social Media”
BJP today charged Congress with taking help of tainted Cambridge Analytica for 2019 elections and asksed Rahul Gandhi if he wants to win elections by manipulating and stealing data.
The fallout of the Facebook data leak expose and its misuse by an election consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica in the 2016 US Presidential elections allegedly in the favour of Donald Trump has reached Indian shores.
The day saw the BJP accuse the Congress party of having ties with Cambridge Analytica while the Congress did its own finger pointing back at the BJP.
Even Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg has been put on notice by the govt if the personal data of over 200 million Indian Facebook users has been similarly misused.
Party leader Ravi Shankar Prasad cited media reports on opposition’s plan to use the firm’s services for next Lok Sabha elections.
He even wondered if Rahul Gandhi’s Twitter followers increased due to Cambridge Analytica. He said Misuse of social media for political gains will not be tolerated.
Law Minister even warned Facebook of stringent legal action against any misuse of data of more than 200 million Indians on its platform.
Though Congress has denied all allegations.
Facebook and Cambridge Analytica are in midst of controversy over the harvesting and use of 5 crore users’ personal data. Two newspapers reported that the company harvested personal data of Facebook users beginning in 2014.
Firm had been credited with helping Donald Trump to presidential victory. Data was allegedly utilized to direct messages for political campaigns.
Following this Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix, has since been suspended, while Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has been summoned by the chairman of a parliamentary committee in U.K & in the U.S. He has been asked to testify before Congress about how Facebook will protect users.
Moreover, Facebook’s shares also declined following this controversy, though both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied any wrongdoing. But they still have lot to explain.
It’s a Four; Lalu Yadav Convicted in Yet Another Case
Judge Shiv Pal Singh pronounced Yadav and 18 other accused in the case guilty and acquitted 12 accused.
A special CBI court in Ranchi on Monday convicted RJD chief and former Bihar chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav in the fourth case of fodder scam in which he figured as an accused.
Former Bihar CM Jagannath Mishra was acquitted by the court, which will pronounce the sentences on Wednesday.
The verdict in the Dumka treasury case of Bihar’s Rs 1,000-crore fodder scam came as a jolt to RJD, Bihar’s main Opposition party that has the largest number of MLAs in the state Assembly.
Before this, Yadav, 69, has been convicted in three other cases of the scam that was unearthed in the mid-1990s when he was chief minister and had forced him to step down in 1997.
Judge Shiv Pal Singh pronounced Yadav and 18 other accused in the case guilty and acquitted 12 accused.
The case (RC 38A/96) pertains to fraudulent withdrawal of Rs 3.76 crore from the government treasury in Dumka, presently in Jharkhand, even though the withdrawal limit was fixed at just Rs 1.50 lakh.
Officials of the state animal husbandry department, some bureaucrats of the then undivided Bihar government and suppliers of animal food had colluded with politicians to withdraw the funds from the treasury through 96 fake vouchers between December 1995 and January 1996.
Yadav was the chief minister of Bihar at the time.
Special CBI courts in Ranchi have earlier held Yadav guilty in three other cases of the scam.
He was handed a five-year jail term in the Chaibasa treasury case in September 2013; a jail term for three years and a half in the Deoghar treasury case in December 2017; and a jail term for five years in another case linked to the Chaibasa treasury in January last.
Not Yet Over for Raja, Kanimozhi in the 2G Case; ED Moves Delhi HC
ED, in its charge sheet, had alleged that Rs 200 crore was paid by Swan Telecom (P) Ltd (STPL) promoters to DMK-run Kalaignar TV.
The Enforcement Directorate on March 19 moved the Delhi High Court challenging a special court order acquitting former telecom minister A Raja, DMK MP Kanimozhi and others in the money laundering case arising out of the 2G scam.
Besides Raja and Kanimozhi, the special court had on December 21 last year acquitted 17 others, including DMK supremo M Karunanidhi’s wife Dayalu Ammal, Shahid Balwa and Vinod Goenka of STPL, Asif Balwa and Rajiv Aggarwal of Kusegaon Fruits and Vegetables Pvt Ltd, film producer Karim Morani, P Amirtham and Sharad Kumar, Director of Kalaignar TV.
The ED, in its charge sheet, had alleged that Rs 200 crore was paid by Swan Telecom (P) Ltd (STPL) promoters to DMK-run Kalaignar TV.
On the same day, the trial court had acquitted Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others, including former Telecom Secretary Siddharth Behura, Raja’s erstwhile private secretary R K Chandolia, Swan Telecom promoters Shahid Usman Balwa and Vinod Goenka, Unitech Ltd MD Sanjay Chandra and three top executives of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (RADAG) — Gautam Doshi, Surendra Pipara and Hari Nair, in the CBI’s 2G case.
The CBI had alleged that there was a loss of Rs 30,984 crore to the exchequer in allocation of licences for the 2G spectrum which were scrapped by the top court on February 2, 2012.
Special Judge O P Saini, however, had then held that the prosecution had “miserably failed” to prove the charges.
The special court, which was set up on March 14, 2011, for hearing 2G cases exclusively, had also acquitted Essar Group promoters Ravi Kant Ruia and Anshuman Ruia and six others in a separate case arising out of the 2G scam probe.
The first case, prosecuted by CBI, had 17 accused, while the second matter, pursued by ED, had 19 undertrials. The third one had eight accused including Essar promoters.
In the CBI case, Raja, Kanimozhi and 15 others were tried under provisions of the IPC and the Prevention of Corruption Act dealing with offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery, using as genuine fake documents, abusing official position, criminal misconduct by public servant and taking a bribe.
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