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    [‘Coalgate’,Response,Shames,Us,All] All in

    2019-05-31  红叶文摘网  本文已影响   字号:T|T

      There has been a nationwide uproar since the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on allocation of coal blocks was tabled in Parliament on August 17. In the eye of the storm is the windfall of financial benefits, estimated at `1,86,000 crore, transferred to a clutch of private businesses through the allocation. The government’s response has been clumsy and ludicrous. It first argued that gifting buried treasure to private businesses cannot be regarded as loss till the buried treasure had been extracted and encashed. When it became known that in several cases such extraction and encashment had indeed happened, a senior minister, perhaps inadvertently, said that since the public does not have an elephantine memory, Coalgate, too, would be forgotten in course of time. He added that the government in the meantime should merely appear to do something to ride out the storm till public interest wanes. How long will we survive as a nation if electoral math and manipulation of public opinion are the only basis for decisions, and responses to blatant acts of corruption?
      CAG’s Flawed Assessment
      The assessed loss by CAG is sensationally large. A closer examination of the methodology reveals that it suffers from very basic limitations. It does not take into account:(a) the investments that will be needed to extract coal, (b) the fact that the benefits will be realised over decades of operation of the mines. If these two corrections are made, the estimated value of the losses would be closer to about 40 per cent of the figure computed by CAG. As to why the CAG should have committed such basic errors in assessment is unclear. It certainly cannot be due to incompetence!
      Parliament is certainly the most important institution in a democracy. How did the venerable elected representatives of the people respond? Parliament had to be shut down. It will be tempting to blame just one political party for obstructing the functioning of Parliament. However, given the involvement of politicians from across a spectrum of political parties in Coalgate, there is no reason to disbelieve the allegation voiced in several quarters that there was tacit support from most political parties for stalling the proceedings of Parliament. The closing of ranks across political parties was evident in what happened. Perhaps the belief articulated by the senior minister that public memory is transient and that the matter will finally fade out of the headlines may have been the thinking behind not letting any debate take place in Parliament.   The time has come for the nation to ask whether these are the representatives of the people who will fulfil India’s “tryst with destiny”. Is this how “the soul of a nation, long suppressed” will “find utterance”? (All quotes are from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech in Parliament on the eve of India’s independence.)
      
      The silence of industry leaders and industry associations has been deafening as well. The reasons are not far to seek. The list of beneficiaries from Coalgate includes the who’s who of Indian industry. One line of defence against the CAG charges has been that the government will benefit from the cess, levies and taxes on the operations and the income tax on the profits of the businesses that use the coal gifted to them. Why then should anyone complain about the allocations and the windfall profits? The logic is preposterous. Isn’t everyone willing to earn super-normal income/profits even if 40 per cent of such income/profits go back to the government as cess, levies and taxes? Some of the captains of industry, who never tire of criticising the government for the subsidies meant for the poor, stand exposed by the scam. Loot by the rich is passésince it is in the service of the nation.
      A vibrant democracy requires an upright and uncompromising bureaucracy that ensures institutions function on principles of good governance. Unfortunately, we may have yet again witnessed some bureaucrats buckling under pressure from their political masters. The pattern of allocations demonstrates yet again a cavalier disregard for ethics and probity in administrative decision making. Rather than resisting attempts to exploit national assets for private gain, the bureaucracy sometimes becomes complicit in helping the process of rent extraction by private parties.
      It may be instructive to step back and examine the reasons that led to Coalgate. All of us are aware of the crisis in the power sector from our daily experience of load shedding. Despite several attempts, the government has simply not been able to reform the power sector. The solution proposed by the policy makers was to significantly and quickly enhance the capacity for electricity generation(though there are other cheaper options to deal with the problem). The idea of allocation of coal blocks essentially to power producers was mooted to encourage private businesses to set up power generation capacity. However, an effective mechanism to monitor timely implementation of projects and usage of coal for specified purposes only, was not put in place. In addition, while allocating coal blocks for power generation, they were also allocated for production of steel, cement and aluminium – commodities that are free from any controls.   
      The Way Forward
      There is no justification for gifting coal blocks for production of commodities that are freely priced and distributed. Such allottees should be asked to pay the economic value of the allotted blocks. The allocations to power generation units that have contracted to supply power to power distribution companies at competitively bid rates through long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) may be justified as the benefits from low-cost coal would be reflected in low cost of electricity. However, there is need to ensure that the electricity rates are not re-negotiated upwards from the competitively bid rates and that the projects are implemented as per agreed schedule. Or else, appropriate penalties must be imposed on such allottees.
      ‘Coalgate’ has yet again demonstrated the rampant misuse of power to help rent extraction by private agencies through access to and ownership of national assets.
      We must act decisively and punish the guilty irrespective of the patronage they enjoy to reiterate our faith in the rule of law.
      The author is Director, IIM Ahmedabad

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