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Will anybody benefit from higher notional loss on coal?

By Rajesh Pandathil

The "tu tu main main" between the government and its auditor is unlikely to end any time soon.

So also the string of Parliament adjournments -- the only serious business our lawmakers are into nowadays.

According to a report in The Economic Times, the Comptroller and Auditor General is preparing more armour to fight the onslaught of a bruised government.

A CAG official has been quoted as saying in the report that the current loss figure of Rs 1.86 lakh crore has been arrived at because the auditor has been "supremely conservative in calculation".

The official goes on to say that if the prices at the e-auction of coal are considered, the loss figure will be Rs 11.2 lakh crore.

The CAG is stepping up its attack. PTI

Further, if the prices of imported coal are taken into account, the losses will amount to a mind-numbing Rs 18 lakh crore.

The auditor will present these figures to the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, if and when questioned.

The aim, definitely, is to further scare the government, which is already accusing the CAG of overstepping its role.

If the CAG indeed take these figures to the PAC, in all likelihood the Opposition is getting another stick to beat the ruling Congress with.

The new figures being floated around by the CAG will do no good in resolving the present situation. It will only sensationalise an already sensational subject. So their cautious approach to begin with was sensible.

As an earlier Firstpost article pointed out, it is really not possible to compute potential losses or undue benefits - only actual ones.

"The media also jumps to conclusions when it assumes that a "presumptive loss" figure is not the same as actual looting by politicians and business - though it could have been the case," it said.

Adding to the Congress's worries is another report in the newspaper saying the Prime Minister's Office may have actually helped SKS Ispat and Power to get coal blocks.

According to the report, the newspaper has evidence to show the family links between Tourisn Minister Subodh Kant Sahai and the company.

In addition, Sudhir Kumar Sahai, a director with SKS Ispat, figures in the list of "private parties" that participated in at a meeting of the screening committee.

Minsiter Sahai had on 5 February 2008, sought the prime minister's "personal intervention" for the allotment of coal blocks for SKS Ispat, the report said.

"I would like to bring to your kind notice that M/s SKS Ispat and Power Limited have applied for two coal blocks for their steel plants in the state of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand... I shall be grateful for your personal intervention in this matter," the report said quoting from the letter sent by the Subodh Kant Sahai, who was a minister of state (independent charge) for food processing industries.

Interestingly, the PMO responded in 24 hours, directing the coal ministry to take "action as appropriate", the report said.

As more skeletons tumble, the coal is getting darker by the day. Meanwhile, the common man will have to remain a mute spectator even as political bickering brushes aside economic policies and other bigger subjects.

by Rajesh Pandathil

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