India PM rejects coal scandal accusations

Manmohan Singh says charges that country lost huge sums after sale of coal without competitive bidding are baseless.

Singh's administration has been plagued by a string of graft scandals but he has not been personally culpable [EPA]

Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, has dismissed accusations that his country lost vast amounts of money in a coal scandal, calling the charges baseless in a Twitter message.

Singh, who was in charge of the coal ministry from 2004 to 2009, defended himself on Monday after earlier being shouted down by opposition politicians in parliament.

Parliament has been virtually paralysed since the national auditor released a report two weeks ago saying the sale of coal blocks without competitive bidding was expected to net private companies windfall profits of up to $34bn.

The main opposition has demanded Singh’s resignation.

“The prime minister must resign” members of the Bharatiya Janata Party shouted, drowning out Singh who had stood up in parliament to make a statement defending his government.

Singh’s office instead posted his defence on his official handle on Twitter, the microblogging site.

“I wish to say that any allegations of impropriety are without basis and unsupported by the facts,” Singh’s office tweeted, adding that the auditor’s observations were “clearly disputable”.

Speaking outside parliament, Singh told reporters: “Let the country judge where the truth lies.”

‘Thousand answers’

A string of tweets went on to accuse the auditors of using faulty logic and disputable math to produce their report.

Singh also said that as the minister in charge at the time in question he would take full responsibility for the decision not to switch the government’s method of allocating coal fields to an auction system sooner.

At one point he tweeted, in Hindi, an Indian saying: “My silence is better than a thousand answers.”

Singh’s government has come under fire in recent years for a string of corruption scandals that has tarnished his image as an upstanding technocrat.

The prime minister’s defence came a day after hundreds of protesters were baton charged by police and sprayed with tear gas during a demonstration in the capital New Delhi.

Police also fired water cannons to disperse the protesters as they tried to march towards Singh’s residence and that of Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress party, one of the main parties in the governing coalition.

Singh’s reputation has been sullied by a string of scandals during his administration, though few have accused him of personal corruption.

His government has been repeatedly battered by criticism of its handling of everything from the 2010 Commonwealth Games to the sale of 3G cellphone spectrum in an irregular process the auditor said cost the country tens of billions of dollars.

Source: News Agencies