NEW DELHI: Finance Minister P Chidambaram did a U-turn today saying that the government never talked about 'zero loss' in the allocation of coal blocks - an issued that has paralysed Parliament proceedings over the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report that the lack of transparency in the allocation of coal blocks to private players had resulted in the loss of a whopping Rs 1.85 lakh crore to the exchequer.
"None of us used the phrase zero loss. Nevertheless, a section of the press has incorrectly reported that government claimed that there was zero loss in the allocation of coal blocks," Chidambaram said in a written statement.
"In fact, what I said was: If coal is not mined, if coal remains buried in mother earth, where is the loss. The loss can arise only if one tonne of coal is taken out of mother earth and sold at some unacceptable price or value," he said.
Complaining of incorrect reporting by the media, Chidambaram said: "I said question of loss or gain arises only in respect of coal actually mined from any of the 57 blocks. If the coal is not being mined, there is no question of a gain or a loss. That is what I said. So please quote me accuratel."
In a joint press conference with Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal and Law and Justice Minister Salman Kurshid, the finance minister had said Friday that the notion of presumptive loss by the official auditor in the coal block allocation was flawed.
Earlier in the day, making a statement in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on the CAG report on coal block allocation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said official auditor's report was disputable and flawed because of its assumptions and computations.
"I want to assure the members that as the minister in charge, I take full responsibility for the decisions of the ministry. I wish to say that any allegations of impropriety are without basis and unsupported by the facts," he said.
"The facts speak for themselves and show that the CAG's findings are flawed on multiple counts," Manmohan Singh said, tracking the history of successive governments' policies on coal blocks allocations since 1993.
Singh also defended the policy for coal block allocations, noting that previous non-Congress governments had been doing the same.
"It was the UPA I government which, for the first time, conceived the idea of making allocations through the competitive bidding route in June 2004," he said in the statement.
Later, speaking to the media outside parliament, Manmohan Singh said he was "sorry the two houses are not (being) allowed to function and BJP is determined to disrupt normal functioning of parliament".
"I wish to assure the country that we have a strong and credible case. The observations of the CAG are disputable and they will be challenged when the matter comes before the PAC (Public Accounts Committee)," he said. (Agencies)
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