That Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was unable to fight vested interests in his government to push coal reforms is well known, even tragic, given how the BJP had left behind a Bill, in the Rajya Sabha, to open up coal mining to the private sector without restriction of captive use—it’s another matter that, in recent years, the party itself has had second thoughts and wants to restrict private mining to captive users. The CAG’s Coalgate report detailed how the prime minister wanted to open up the sector years before Coalgate took place, but allowed powerful political allies to over-rule him. Former coal secretary PC Parakh’s book, released Monday, fleshes this out. Like the CAG report, Parakh talks of how, in August 2004, the prime minister—who held the coal portfolio at that time—agreed with the proposal to replace the screening committee allotment of captive coal blocks with the bidding route, and a Cabinet note was prepared. Yet, based on a note written by the junior coal minister, the Prime Minister’s Office ended up writing a note explaining why open bidding was a bad idea—there would be no Coalgate had the PM asserted himself.
Parakh, however, never gave up, and that is why his book should be read by serving, and aspiring, bureaucrats. The junior minister kept blocking Parakh’s proposal, and at a later date, the prime minister handed back the ministry to Shibu Soren who also killed the auction proposal. Yet, when the PM took charge again in March 2005, Parakh revived his proposal. He still didn’t succeed due to vested interests, but in other cases he did. When a CMD had to be appointed for Coal India—the previous one had been suspended on corruption charges—and the Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB) had given its recommendations, the minister, as well as the junior minister, were not in favour of what PESB had recommended. So, a CVC report was asked for on allegations of corruption against the candidate; when the CVC said there was nothing to the allegations, the junior minister was in favour of ignoring the CVC’s advice—with Soren agreeing, the matter appeared dead. Yet, after failing to persuade the ministers, Parakh wrote to the Department of Personnel and Training asking for the matter to be placed before the Appointments Committee of Cabinet (ACC). When asked for an explanation, Parakh pointed out that, under the law, only the ACC had the right