State justifies recommending pvt co, Cong for CBI probe

Bhubaneswar: State government on Wednesday justified recommending names of private companies for coal block allocation even as opposition Congress walked out of the assembly demanding CBI probe into the entire episode while BJP blamed both Centre and state government for the scandal.

Steel and Mines Minister R K Singh, while replying to an adjournment motion debate on the subject in the Assembly, said the state government had signed MoUs with 29 independent power projects (IPPs) and 50 steel firms for setting up of industries and needed to reserve 10,000 million tons of coal to feed local industries.

The Centre, he said, had allocated coal blocks to certain companies though they were not recommended by the state government.

"The Centre allocated coal blocks to outside companies by ignoring requirement of industries in Odisha. It allocated blocks having reserves of 4956.82 million tons of coal to 13 PSUs of other states while the state industries required 250 million ton of non-coking coal per annum. In certain cases, the Centre allocated coal blocks to some companies even before the state made recommendation for them. Therefore, state`s recommendations were never binding on Centre for allocation of coal blocks," the minister said.

Claiming that Odisha was the first to demand auction based system for allocation of coal blocks, Singh said, "The Centre had been adopting dilly dallying process instead of going through the bidding process."

Besides, a meeting at Prime Minister`s Office on September 11, 2004 had pointed out certain disadvantages of bidding process, he said.

The CAG report, Singh claimed, had castigated the Centre over the coal issue and not the state government.

Opposition Congress, however, rejected Odisha government`s argument and staged a walk out demanding a CBI probe into the entire episode.

They also suggested that Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik resign for recommending names of private companies for coal block allocation while at the same time claiming to have favoured bidding route for allocation.

"Will the chief minister resign on his own and set an example for others over the coal issue? We do not demand his resignation. But the chief minister should resign before the BJD demands resignation of Prime Minister," Congress Chief Whip Prasad Harichandan said.

He said though the Centre had attempted to introduce bidding process for coal block allocation in 2005, it was strongly opposed by state government. "However, the Chief Minister is now claiming that the state government has been asking for auction-based system for allocation of mineral resources including coal," he said.

"The Chief Minister is telling untruth. Neither he nor his government has ever suggested bidding route for coal block allocation. Therefore, we suggest him to tender resignation and set an example for others," he said.

Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh slammed the chief minister for being absent during the debate. "The Chief Minister should express his views on the coal scandal instead of giving the responsibility to a new minister," he said.

BJPLP leader K V Singhdeo blamed both UPA government at the centre and the BJD government in the state for the irregularities in coal block allocation.

"Some power companies were allocated coal blocks even though they have not acquired land for setting up power plants in the state," he said.

BJP members too walked out of the house expressing displeasure over the minister`s reply.