Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CoalGate: Beyond corruption

Nothing riles Indians as much as corruption. And if the scale of the corruption is to the tune of INR 1.86 lakh crores (or roughly 34 billion US dollars), then heads must roll. This is the amount that the CAG estimates is the gain that will accrue to the private firms that have been allocated coal blocks. A percentage of this gain is therefore the perceived loss to the Indian ex-chequer.

The basic findings of the CAG are: Coal blocks were allotted to private firms AT NO COST by an arbitrary steering committee in a completely ad-hoc fashion. No one is clear what guidelines were followed in the allocation process. Several of these allocations were through recommendation letters of Members of Parliament (MPs), favouring private firms with vested interests.

Some private firms that were allotted these coal blocks went to banks and raised huge sums of capital which was not invested in the development of the coal blocks. Moreover their share prices multiplied several times over. Obviously a lot of people made a lot of money and no one really doubts the Congress Party and some of its ministers and party functionaries would have made a fortune.

No sooner was “Report 7” released by the CAG, the opposition parties, led by the BJP pounced on the adverse findings and asked for the head of the Prime Minister, since the latter was also the Minister of Coal, during the period the allocations were made. Understandably, the Indian public is mad as hell and for once, even the staunchest Congress supporters want the guilty to be punished.

But is CoalGate (yes, one more “Gate”) about corruption alone? Is it only about recovering ill-gotten money and punishing the guilty? By paraphrasing CoalGate as a case of corruption in high places, we trivialize its implications.

That the Ministry of Coal had allocated 142 coal blocks to both private and public companies in the most ad-hoc manner from 2004 onwards is no secret. The allocations did not happen behind iron walls. We did not need Report 7 for the “revelation”. The manner in which the allocations were made, to whom they were made and reasons for allocation are available in the form of “minutes of meeting” on the website of the Ministry of Coal (http://www.coal.nic.in/welcome.html).

Why did it need the CAG Report to bring to life the collective consciousness of the Indian polity and citizenry? Why is that no one – the opposition, the major players in the power, iron and steel and cement industry, the media, you and me – raise any objection or prevent the government from carrying out what was a brazen act of looting the country of its precious resources?

Our collective culpability does not end here. The ostensible reasons for de-reservation of 48 coal blocks from Coal India Limited to private players were to increase the production of coal and thereby reducing our reliance on imports. Out of 86 coal blocks which were to produce 73.00 million tonnes of coal during 2010-11, only 28 blocks which included 15 blocks allocated to private sector, could start production by 31st March 2011 and produce only 34.64 million tonne of coal during 2010-11.

A delay of a few hours invites a censure in any accountable organization. A delay of a few days or weeks could mean losing a job. In this case we are talking of delays of several years. Now that we the citizens know, we will deal with the party that forms the government in the next elections. But how do we deal with the entire opposition that clearly knew but did not bother to question the government in parliament in all these many years? How are we to deal with the captains of industry amongst some of the most well known and “respected” organizations in the country who were clearly derelict in their responsibilities and accountability?

Why is it that in 2012, we still haven’t forced our government to enact a law that will ensure equitable distribution of natural resources through a transparent and well defined process?

Why is it that even after the 2G scam – which has striking similarities – no one bothered to look around and ask obvious questions regarding the manner in which other common resources were being managed?

Folks, this is not about a corrupt Congress party or about the removal of Manmohan Singh (refuse to use the prefix Dr. – does not deserve it anymore).

This is about the collective failure of the Indian leadership (political and industry). This is why on 31st July 2012, India faced its biggest ever power failure. This is why despite the promise of double digit growth, we are barely registering 6%. This is what stops us from becoming one of the greatest nations in the world.

The time has come for ordinary citizens to introspect and decide how India will be lead…

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