Congress ready with Food Bill, but BJP wants PM statement on missing coal files first
New Delhi: The ruling Congress came ready to push its flagship Food Security Bill in Parliament today, but the Bharatiya Janata Party made it clear – the house won’t run until Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself explained how crucial files connected to the coal allocation scam went missing.
Sonia Gandhi, Congress president and UPA chairperson, was to make a rare speech in Parliament as the government made an all-out effort to push the Food Bill on the 69th birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi today.
The Congress was even ready to suspend its own MPs from Andhra Pradesh, if they continued to protest against a separate Telangana state.
But the BJP said it would not allow the Houses to function till the Prime Minister made a statement on the missing files on the allocation of coal blocks to private parties at throwaway prices.
Both Houses saw repeated adjournments today.
Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said he was ready for any punishment if he was proved guilty. “But what punishment will the Opposition take if they are proved wrong?” he asked.
“Files don’t disappear, they are made to disappear,” Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley countered.
60 files are missing, of which 16 have been sought urgently by the CBI. The documents that cannot be traced reportedly explain the allocation process for 50 coal blocks.
The opposition said the coal minister’s statement was “unacceptable”, alleging a conflict of interest as one of the private allottees under the scanner was related to Mr Jaiswal.
“The PM should come to the house and explain how and where the files went missing, every missing file names Congress ministers, we expect a statement from the PM himself,” said Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, amid slogans of “PM must answer” from the opposition benches.
On Monday, the Prime Minister had held long consultations to finalise last minute changes in the Food Bill and this morning, he also met Mrs Gandhi and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath to discuss the floor plan on the Food Bill.
The Bill, which aims at providing highly-subsidized food to nearly 70 per cent of India’s population at a cost of nearly Rs. 1.25 lakh crores, is expected to be brought in Parliament with more changes to appease opposition parties and some allies.
The Samjawadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which extend external support to the government have said they will support the bill, but seek amendments.
The Bill will lapse if it does not get Parliament’s approval before this monsoon session ends on August 30. The Congress is counting on it as a vote-getter as it seeks a third straight victory in national elections, due by May.