Finance Minister Mr. Chidambaram was at his persuasive best in his press conference Friday while criticizing the BJP and arguing for the need of a debate in parliament on the coal industry scam. He made clear that the press conference was not on the subject of the report of the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) but on the need for parliament to function. However Mr. Chidambaram could not resist a dig at the CAG report by indulging in a sly, semantic sleight-of-hand.
He ridiculed the notion of any loss to the nation when almost all the coal mines that had been allotted to mining companies had not yet become operational. “When coal has not even been mined or sold how can one speak about loss or gain to the nation?” he asked with his usual cherubic smile.
This was legal obfuscation at its best.
The Home Minister being the clever lawyer that he is seized on the word “loss” to make his point. He can be rebutted quite simply by stating that the coal mining awards may not have created loss but were, to put it quite simply, grossly undervalued. And only an auction would help determine the correct value of the mines awarded by reflecting their market price. That basically is the issue raised by the CAG report.
For the rest, let the UPA government by all means quibble on the value of the coal mines awarded to private companies, on the role of the opposition in formulating and executing coal policy, and on the need for an even handed approach to introduce policy reform. But let not the Finance Minister resort to semantic quibbling to imply that no misdemeanor at all has been committed.
Mr. Chidambaram is an unusually smart Minister. But everyone else is not dumb.