NEW DELHI — Indian media on Saturday slammed the embattled government after a damning report by the country’s auditor estimated that the exchequer lost billions of dollars by failing to auction valuable coal mining rights. Newspapers said the findings by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has pushed the government to the wall especially since auditors had assigned personal blame to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On Friday the CAG released three reports accusing the government of allocating coal blocks, power projects and land for Delhi’s flagship airport at a fraction of market prices rather than through a bidding process. The report on coal block allocation estimated that since mid-2004 private operators who won coal blocks without competition may have enjoyed “financial gains to the tune of 1.86 trillion Indian rupees (US$33.4 billion).” The Hindustan Times newspaper splashed the front page with: “Our likely loss: Indian Rupees 3,800,000,000,000,” referring to the total revenue they said the Indian taxpayers may have lost in the three sectors. It stated that the government “has clearly run out of luck … to withstand the tsunami of corruption charges that could rob it further of the popular esteem so essential for governing with conviction and authority.” Manmohan Singh’s coalition government, dominated by the left-leaning Congress party, has been beset by a string of corruption cases since re-election in 2009 and the latest allegations of mismanagement led to renewed pressure on him. The Times of India headlined with “CAG’s trident bleeds govt” while the Mint newspaper said that reports have brought “corruption back on (the) national agenda.” The hotly awaited findings have led the opposition to step up demands for Singh to resign since he was in charge of the coal ministry from 2004 to 2009.
They have asked the government to answer why an auction was not held. The Mail Today’s headline was “GOVT IN A CAGMIRE” and it called the auditor’s report a “triple whammy.”
However Singh’s government maintains it was simply following established policy, and the prime minister had denied wrongdoing before the report’s release.