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Indian Government Calls for End to Deadlock Over Coal Scandal

  • VOA News

Indian Coal Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal attends a press conference in New Delhi, India, August 24, 2012.

Indian Coal Minister Shriprakash Jaiswal attends a press conference in New Delhi, India, August 24, 2012.

India's government is hitting back at corruption allegations and urging opposition lawmakers to end protests that have shut down parliament for a fourth day.

Opposition members have been calling for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation since the release of a national auditor's report claiming the government sold coal fields to private companies without transparency and competitive bidding between 2004 and 2009. The national auditor also alleged companies saw a potential profit gain of up to $34 billion, money that could have gone to the government.

On Friday, India's finance minister, P. Chidambaram, rejected the auditor's report as "totally flawed" and questioned the presumptive loss, saying only one of 57 coal blocks had actually been mined. Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi, "if coal is not mined, if coal remains buried in mother earth, where is the loss?"

Chidambaram also said the ruling Congress Party members, including Prime Minister Singh, are willing to go before parliament and debate the findings of the auditor's report. The finance minister accused the Bharatiya Janata party and other opposition parties of not allowing parliament to function.

The auditor's report on coal mining is the latest scandal to hit India, where Prime Minister Singh has been widely accused of not being serious about controlling graft.

In 2010, auditors said the government lost up to $40 billion because mobile phone licenses were sold at cut-rate prices to the benefit of a few companies. A former telecom minister and more than a dozen other defendants are accused in the corruption scandal.

There were also allegations of widespread graft during the 2010 Commonwealth Games, which were hosted by India.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.
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