India’s Coalgate scam –Another sordid chapter in UPA’s misrule

August 27, 2012 at 2:41 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Beyond the reprieve

(Hindu editorial August 25, 2012)


There are crimes, and there are mistakes. There is criminal conspiracy, and there is political mismanagement. But no matter what courts say, there is always a political price to pay for poor governance. Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram deservedly obtained a reprieve from the Supreme Court in the case filed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy seeking to make him an accused in the 2G spectrum case, but the United Progressive Alliance government can have no great cause for cheer on this issue. Irrespective of how the case relating to the underselling of valuable spectrum turns out, the UPA still has a lot to answer for. The national exchequer suffered a huge loss on account of the manner in which it allowed spectrum to be sold in 2008 by A. Raja, who was Communications Minister at the time. The scam was made possible by two decisions: foregoing an auction and then cherry-picking the lucky allottees. The first element flowed from naïveté, inertia or devious intent and led to a revenue loss; the second from a criminal conspiracy and led to private gain for individual players. This element is the subject of a criminal trial. But the first is subject to political judgment. And the jury will have its say in 2014.

In trying to force the premature delivery of that political judgment through a poorly argued judicial operation, the Opposition has not only given Mr. Chidambaram the satisfaction of obtaining a personal reprieve from the Supreme Court but has also allowed the UPA government to proclaim a wider and wholly unwarranted innocence. In his petition, Dr. Swamy was, in effect, seeking to implicate Mr. Chidambaram for having discussed spectrum pricing with Mr. Raja. If the petition were to have been allowed, all those who are party to policy decisions in which revenue is foregone would have had to be held jointly and individually culpable for any losses despite the absence of criminal intent. This would have disastrous consequences for decision-making at the highest levels. By Dr. Swamy’s logic, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too could have been arraigned in the 2G case because he too went along with the decision to forego an auction. It is a different matter that Dr. Singh and his Cabinet colleagues have shown themselves to be poor custodians of public funds. They have also learned nothing from the 2G fiasco. The coal is still in the ground so where is the question of a loss, its ministers said on Friday while rubbishing the CAG’s latest report on preferential coal allotments. If the logic sounds familiar, this is because it is something a hoarder of grain might say when he is caught with a bursting godown. “I’m innocent! Look, I haven’t sold a single bushel yet”.

Let off in the law court, but what about the people’s court? (My views) …

It was a day when Chidambaram heaved a sigh of relief. The Supreme Court’s long-awaited verdict absolved him of any involvement in the 2G scam perpetrated by his cabinet colleague Raja. He and his party spokesmen now brazenly assert his innocence in the murky scam which robbed the nation of astronomical sums of revenue, and brought much disrepute to the ruling UPA both inside and outside the country. The nation paid a heavy price, and the government now struggles to close the old chapter and start afresh in telecom licensing. So damaging has been the repercussions of the 2G muddle.
It was a saga that ran for years in full knowledge of all members of the government. Chidambaram, as the Finance Minister looked askance at what his cabinet colleague was doing. He, due to some inexplicable reasons, chose to let matters slide depriving the nation of precious finance. As the Finance Minister, he was supposed to jealously guard the nation’s wealth.

This is the charge the Janata Party President Subramanium Swamy pressed so labouriously in the Supreme Court, but the Court decided to go strictly along rigid laws governing criminal misconduct and gave a clean chit to Chidambaram. Looked from the other way, a ‘guilty’ verdict could have implicated the Prime Minister. That would have been disastrous for the government. So, in a way, the verdict is to be welcomed.

However, Chidambaram and the UPA will face their trial in another court –the people’s court, in 2014. It would be naïve to expect that vast number of Indians, seething in anger at the pervasive atmosphere of corruption, will forget and forgive Chidambaram and his UPA team on the basis of this Supreme Court verdict. The perception that Dr. Singh and his Finance Minister Chidambaram have given scant attention to preserve the nation’s revenue has run deep into the psyche of the common man.

It is an irony that the Coalgate scam, higher than the 2G in revenue loss, continues to attract similar lackadaisical response from the government. Within hours of the pronouncement of the Supreme Court’s ‘not-guilty’ verdict, Chidambaram propounded the same in-famous ‘zero less’ theory in case of Coalgate. His colleague Kapil Sibbal had done it some months earlier trying to cover up Raja’s wrong-doings. That Sibbal had caused much derision among the public then by his insensitive defense of Raja, seems to have faded from Chidambaram’s mind in his celebratory mood after the Apex Court’s verdict.
To say that the coal is still there in tact and so, there is no loss to the government is a farcical claim. It is like a thief asserting his innocence saying the booty is in tact and has not been disposed off yet. Is the Finance minister Chidambaram trying to write a new code of public morality befitting to the changing times? Only the public can stop him in his tracks, in 2014, or earlier, God willing.




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