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India: Feds file charges against 5 coal companies as corruption stir paralyzes parliament

India's Central Bureau of Investigation filed cases against 5 firms associated with the alleged "Coalgate" scam that has paralyzed parliament.
Coalgate 2012 9 4Enlarge
Eight parties, including the Samajwadi Party and the Left parties, have joined hands to protest the continued disruption of Parliament and are demanding a probe by a sitting Supreme Court judge into the coal block allocation scam. (RAVEENDRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

India's Central Burea of Investigation filed charges against five companies and unknown government officials associated with the alleged improper allocation of coal mining assets, a corruption scandal that has paralyzed parliament this session.

Clearly, even if the opposition can't or won't force early polls, the corruption allegations plaguing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government show little signs of fading away before the scheduled elections in 2014. On the contrary, if India's legal system proceeds at its usual lightning speed, they will still be working their way through the courts long after all of us have retired.

According to a CBI spokesperson, five first information reports (FIRs) have been filed against five companies and unknown government officials for alleged cheating, the Times of India reported Tuesday.

CBI investigators were also conducting searches at 30 places in ten cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna, Hyderabad, Dhanbad and Nagpur, the spokesperson said.

The agency has already questioned senior bureaucrats who were overseeing allocation of coal blocks during 2005-09, the paper quoted unnamed sources as saying.

According to those sources, the questioning of the coal secretaries, who also chair the screening committee, was done to understand the issues involved in the allocation of coal blocks during the period and so far the agency has not found any irregularities on their part, TOI reported.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and other Congress Party leaders rebuffed the Bharatiya Janata Party's demand that the government rescind coal blocks that were allocated during the disputed period, India's DNA newspaper reported.

The BJP had demanded the cancellation of the allocation of 142 coals blocks and a judicial inquiry into alleged irregularities in the allotment process.

Earlier, India's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) claimed in an official report that the government had cost the treasury as much as $30 billion by allotting the coal blocks to companies without holding a transparent auction. However, as economist Surjit Bhalla and others have pointed out, that number seems at least as arbitrary as the allotment process.

An inter-ministerial group (IMG), which met on Monday, finalized the guidelines for forfeiting the bank guarantees of licensee companies that have failed to achieve the required milestones for developing coal mines, DNA said. The paper cited unnamed sources as saying the IMG will proportionately deduct bank guarantees of at least 15 of the companies. The amount forfeited is likely to total more than $50 million, the paper said.

India's parliament has been forced to adjourn early for 10 days running, as opposition legislators have disrupted sessions to prevent the government from conducting any business, according to the Times of India. As a result, three bills, including one against the harassment of women in the workplace, were passed without any opportunity for debate, reported the Hindu.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/india/india-charges-coal-companies