NEW DELHI, (AFP): India’s opposition insisted Wednesday that Premier Manmohan Singh could not “escape responsibility” over alleged corruption in the allocation of coal blocks that the national auditor says cost the treasury billions of dollars. The opposition stepped up pressure on Singh after India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) accused top industrialist Kumar Mangalam Birla, chairman of conglomerate Aditya Birla Group, and the government’s former coal secretary P.C. Parekh of conspiracy in the coal allotments. “We’re all aware of the fact he (Singh) was coal minister during the period of the scam and every coal block allotment was done with his signature,” said Yashwant Sinha, a leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “How can the prime minister escape responsibility?” asked Sinha, a finance minister under a former BJP government. The opposition has repeatedly called on Singh to resign over the alleged scandal in which the government auditor accused the coal ministry department of underpricing the coalfields and giving away billions of dollars in windfall gains to firms.

The opposition has alleged kickbacks for the allotments, made without any transparent bidding process, went to the ruling Congress party. Singh, who besides being premier headed the coal ministry between 2006 and 2009 when many of the allocations were made, has strongly rejected accusations of wrongdoing in what India’s media has dubbed “Coalgate”. Both Birla, one of India’s best known industrialists, and Parakh, the retired government coal secretary, also denied being part of any illegal conspiracy But Parakh said Wednesday it was “the prime minister, who as the coal minister, took the final decision” on the allotments and demanded to know why Singh had not been named as an alleged co-conspirator. “If a conspiracy is there, then everyone is part,” said Parakh. Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court ordered police Thursday to probe 14 cases of alleged collusion between corporate executives and top bureaucrats in the latest corruption scandal to shake the government. The cases came to light from tapped phone calls between former corporate lobbyist Niira Radia with unidentified business executives and government bureaucrats, the federal police agency told the court in a report. Examination of “the telephonic conversations suggest corrupt means being adopted by private parties to extract gains”, the court said.

Courtesy: Arab Times