Nation
Congress Core group meets on coal issue, Sonia to talk to allies

Government has already rejected the demand for cancellation of coal blocks and has trashed the BJP demand for resignation of the Prime Minister in the wake of CAG findings on the issue

 
New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi will be holding consultations with UPA constituents and allies on ways and means to break the deadlock in Parliament over the coal block allocation issue, reports PTI.
 
An indication to this effect was given on Friday by Congress sources who said Gandhi, the ruling coalition UPA chairperson, is most likely to have interaction with constituents of the ruling alliance and outside supporters.
 
This came after the Congress Core Group met Friday evening with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Gandhi holding deliberations with the party top brass on the strategy after the opposition stuck to their demand for scrapping of coal blocks.
 
Government has already rejected the demand for cancellation of coal blocks and has trashed the BJP demand for resignation of the Prime Minister in the wake of Comptroller and Auditor General findings on the issue.
 
Coal Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal was also called for the Congress Core Committee meeting and so were Law Minister Salman Khurshid and Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal.
 
Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who is also the leader of Lok Sabha, the Lower House of Indian Parliament, was present during the deliberations.
 
The meeting took place hours after Gandhi held a meeting with senior leaders, including Ahmed Patel, Pawan Kumar Bansal and Shinde as Parliament proceedings were paralysed for the eighth day. The monsoon session of Parliament concluded on 8th September.
 
Samajwadi Party supremo Mulyam Singh Yadav, whose party is a key outside supporter, has demanded an inquiry by a sitting Supreem Court judge into the coal block allocation.
 
On Thursday, Law Minister Salman Khurshid had steered clear of Mulayam's demand saying that any reponse on the issue could come only from the Congress president. .
 
Yadav on Friday joined hands with the Left parties and Telugu Desam Party to demand the judicial probe and cancellation of licenses failng which they threatened to launch a countrywide agitation.
 
They demanded that the Parliament should be allowed to function and to put an end to the "match-fixing" of the Congress and the BJP to disrupt it.
 
The government and Congress have also been critical of the CAG reports on the coal block allocation issue and the Prime Minister has said the conclusions drawn by it were disputable.
 

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Sahai defends letter to PM on coal block allocation

Sahai had written a letter to Prime Minister seeking his personal intervention for allocation of two coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd. The very next day, the PMO wrote to the Coal Secretary recommending 'appropriate' action

 
New Delhi: Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai, who is embroiled in a controversy over allocation of a coal block in Jharkhand, has targeted Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but was cornered over the letter he had written to Prime Minister recommending a company in which his brother is a Director, reports PTI.
 
"This debate is sandwiched between a Delhi High Court judgement and bunch of lies being spread by BJP. Parliament is not able to function due to their lies even as the whole country is watching," Sahai said at a press conference called by him to clear his name in the coal allocation controversy.
 
To a question, he ruled out resigning from the government and shot back, "For what?".
 
BJP has produced a letter written by Sahai to the Prime Minister seeking his "personal intervention" for allocation of two coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd, in which, the party said his brother Sudhir K Sahai is a Director.
 
Asked about the allegations, the Minister maintained that his brother was on the board of the company as an "honorary director".
 
Sahai cited the court order to argue that his brother is neither a shareholder nor a director.
 
However, he accepted that he had written the letter to the Prime Minister seeking his intervention for coal block allocation. He insisted that he has done so for development of the state.
 
"In future also, I would make such recommendations for the development of my state (Jharkhand)," Sahai said.
 
Asked if it did not tantamount to misuse of his office as his brother was connected to the company, Sahai said, "I would not recommend any person on the street. We recommend somebody only after checking his antecedents." 
 
He alleged that Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh was aware of the allocation and said that Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had represented one of the parties as an advocate before Delhi High Court.
 
"Despite this, BJP is levelling these allegations against me and disrupting Parliament to realise their dream of coming to power which will never be fulfilled," Sahai said. 
 
The Tourism Minister was hard pressed defending his letter to the Prime Minister seeking coal block allocation for the company with which his brother was associated.
 
Sahai said the court judgement was in his favour. "There are several controversies. It is a false allegation," he said.
 
Sahai had written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 5 February 2008 seeking his personal intervention for allocation of two coal blocks to SKS Ispat and Power Ltd. The very next day, the PMO wrote to the Coal Secretary recommending "appropriate" action.
 
Clarifying his stand on his letter, he maintained that the court had observed that "the letter has nothing to do with the allocation of coal block for the power project." 
 
Asked about the presence of his brother in a screening committee meeting, he said the decision to make the coal allocation to the company was made at the 35th meeting of the screening committee held on 13 September 2007, long before he wrote to the Prime Minister.
 
Defending his brother, the Minister said, "So many people provide services to various companies. This does not mean they are part of company." 
 
He maintained that his name was cleared by the Delhi High Court in a case filed on these two coal block allocations.
 
He alleged that some of the petitioners in the case were close to BJP and RSS.
 
Sahai maintained that the court had stated, "This allegation can only be a product of fanciful imagination...
 
Further, not a scrap of paper has been produced to prove the claim...." The matter is sub-judice, he said.
 

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Farm subsidies should go to make farmers self-sufficient in the long run

The Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council has recommended an end to the subsidies for power in agriculture and canal water irrigation. It feels that such a move would be beneficial to the farmers and the country in the long run, and will make them responsible and self-sufficient  

 
Everyone is now concerned with the poor example set by the opposition parties, spearheaded by BJP, in making the Parliament unfunctional. It is Coalgate everywhere and even the prime minister is not given the opportunity to put up his defence. In fact, Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani terrorist, had a better privilege to defend his horrendous crime against humanity.
 
The monsoon has played havoc again with a few states in real bad shape. Farmers there need immediate assistance, rather physical and visible assistance instead of having to handle a stream of "fact finding" drought teams.
 
It was reported that a Central Drought Team visited Karnataka a few days ago to assess the situation.  They ‘arrived’ by a ‘helicopter’, presumably from Bangalore, and visited Tumkur and other nearby places in Karnataka.
 
Due to lack of rain, farmers there had lost their standing crops of groundnut, maize, ragi, etc, which have withered away. They petitioned if it was possible for the team to recommend that their agricultural loans taken by them from nationalized banks can be waived in view of the drought conditions. They were willing to give up their demand for the loss of crop compensation if this swap can be arranged. Their insurance, for loss of crop has not yet been settled, though they had paid the insurance premiums for the last one year. The farmers further complained that most had to travel some three kilometres everyday to secure potable water.  The deputy commissioner, who accompanied the team, has now assured them that it would made available “within a month”.
 
How inhuman can this be?  If the drought team had travelled by luxury A/C bus, instead of the helicopter, which would have cost the exchequer few lakhs of rupees, the government could have saved enough money to ensure potable water in tankers reach these poor farmers every day.  What a pity, and what a shame?
 
In Southern Karnataka, the farmers are now seeking subsidy for paddy cultivation.  Unfortunately, paddy is not included in the rural employment scheme and the farmers are agitated for this lapse as the drought conditions continue to bite.
 
In the meantime, the central government has set aside Rs5.75 lakh crore farm loan target for public sector banks for the current year. Last year the target was Rs 4.5 lakh crore which was exceeded by Rs25,000 crore.
 
Generally 60% of the farm loan goes towards crop loan and the rest covers the cost of buying tractors, cold storage facilities and mechanizations. These loans are given at the concessional rate of 7% and the rate actually comes to 4% if the farmer services the loan well.
 
However, the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) has called for the urgent reforms in agricultural and allied sectors. It has recommended that the government must put an end to these subsidies for power in agriculture and canal water irrigation. It feels that such a move is beneficial to the farmers and the country in the long run, and will make them responsible and self-sufficient.
 
There is no reason why the government should not make a start with the current monsoon failure and implement such a proposal? Gradually, in the next couple of years, many of these subsidies can be eliminated.
 
Subsidies are meant for genuine loss; but these cannot be a supplement to one’s profits. 
 
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected])
 

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