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Coal block allocation issue: PM dares BJP to
have debate in Parliament

NEW DELHI: As the BJP disrupted Parliament on the coal block issue, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday attacked the party and dared it to have a debate in the House to let the country judge the truth. 

Soon after he was disallowed to complete a statement he made in both Houses, he talked to reporters outside Parliament House, asserting that the government has a "strong and credible case" on the coal block allocations, which has come under criticism from the CAG. 

"I am sorry that the House is not allowed to function and the BJP is determined to disrupt the proceedings of Parliament. I wish to assure the country that we have a very strong and credible case," Singh said. 

The Prime Minister said his policy is to maintain silence on "motivated" issues but this is one occasion where he "ardently wished" that he should be given the opportunity to speak to Parliament and to the public at large. 

Singh said the CAG's conclusions on the coal block allocations were "disputable". 

"The observations of CAG are disputable and they will be challenged when the matter comes before the Parliamentary Accounts Committee," Singh said. 

He argued that a debate should take place in Parliament and the country can judge where the truth lies. 

"Once again I appeal to the Opposition to come back to the House to debate on these issues and let the country judge where the truth lies," Singh said. 

He recited an Urdu couplet to drive home his point on his silence till now on the controversy. 

"Hazaron jawabo se achchi hai Khamoshi meri, Na jaane kitne sawalo ki aabru rakhe." (My silence is better than a thousand answers, it keeps intact the honour of innumerable questions). 

Earlier, dubbing CAG's computation of loss of Rs 1.86 lakh crore in coal block allocation as "flawed" and "misleading", Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the battle to the opposition camp, blaming it for thwarting the Centre's effort to shift to competitive bidding. 

Making a statement in both Houses of Parliament amid uproar created by BJP members, Singh refused to be on the back foot, declaring that he takes "full responsibility" for the decisions taken as he contended that CAG's "observations" are "clearly disputable". 

With BJP creating disruptions, he read out a few portions of his four-page statement before laying it in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha which were repeatedly adjourned because of uproar. 

Conscious that the CAG reports are normally discussed in detail in the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament where the ministry concerned responds, Singh said he was departing from this established procedure "because of the nature of the allegations that are being made and because I was holding the charge of coal minister for a part of the time covered by the report." 

Responding point-by-point to the CAG's observations, the Prime Minister said even if the government auditor's contention that benefits accrued to private companies were accepted, "their computations can be questioned on a number of technical points." 

He asserted that aggregating the "purported gains" to private parties "merely on the basis of the average production costs and sale price of CIL ( Coal India Limited) could be highly misleading." 

As coal blocks were allocated to private companies only for captive purposes for specified end-uses, he said, it would not be appropriate to link the allocated blocks to the price of coal set by CIL. 

Meanwhile, senior BJP leader and former deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha Najma Heptullah said the Prime Minister's statement should not be considered by Parliament as there was no "order" in both the Houses when they were laid. 

"According to me no statement was made today. When the House is not in order, the proceeding is not on record", she told reporters outside Parliament. 

"I have been deputy chairman for 18-19 years. I have said this repeatedly and today also I told the deputy chairman that...it is a rule, a convention and a record that if House is not in order, than no proceeding should not come to record," she said to buttress her point. 

Further, she accused the government of adopting two yardsticks as it allowed former telecom minister A Raja to resign following CAG report on 2G allocation but is shielding the prime minister on the coal allocation scam. PTI




Taliban behead 17 at late-night party in Afghanistan: Officials

KANDAHAR: Taliban Islamist insurgents beheaded 17 civilians, including two women, who were holding a party with music in a southern Afghanistan village, officials said on Monday. 

"I can confirm that this is the work of the Taliban," the Helmand provincial governor's spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP. 

"Two women and 15 men were beheaded. They were partying with music in an area under the control of the Taliban," he said. 

Nematullah Khan, the Musa Qala district chief confirmed that the villagers had organised a party with music, and one local official said he suspected that the two women had been dancing. 

Secret parties with dancing women from a gypsy-type tribe are common across southern Afghanistan. 

During their 1996-2001 rule in Afghanistan the Taliban, waging a fierce insurgency against the NATO-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, also tried to stop the mixing of men and women who were not related. 

The latest atrocity happened near Zamindawar village, an area on the border between Kajaki and Musa Qala districts where the Taliban are active. 

The insurgents have in the past been blamed for beheading local villagers, mostly over charges of spying for Afghan and US-led NATO forces. 

Haji Musa Khan, a tribal elder in Musa Qala district, said the region had seen a surge in such killings in recent months. AFP




BCCI recommend Dravid and Gambhir's names
for Padma awards

NEW DELHI: The BCCI has decided to recommend the names of former Indian captain Rahul Dravid and opener Gautam Gambhir's names for the prestigious Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards respectively.

According to a BCCI official, president N Srinivasan and secretary Sanjay Jagdale were supposed to discuss the issue and forward the names to the government.

"Dravid and Gambhir's names were discussed earlier and president and secretary were to take a final call in this regard. The last date for filing nominations was August 15 and the names have been sent" a BCCI official said on Monday.

Dravid was earlier in line to get the Rajiv Khel Ratna award but the only cricketer in the panel Ravi Shastri was not present during the meeting to make a strong case for the former captain. Shastri said he did not get any invitation for the meeting.

Dravid has scored more than 24,000 international runs with over 13,000 runs in 134 Tests and nearly 11,000 runs in 344 ODIs. He has scored 36 Test centuries and 12 centuries in the shorter version.

Gambhir is a deserving candidate for Padma Shri having been prolific in all three forms of the game. He has already been conferred with Arjuna award and his 97 in the World Cup final last year makes his case a strong one.

Padma Bhushan is country's third highest civilian honour after Bharat Ratna and Padma Vibhusan.

Sachin Tendulkar is the only cricketer to receive the second highest civilian honour in Padma Vibhushan while nine cricketers including Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Vinoo Mankad and Lala Amarnath have received Padma Bhushan. PTI





Contempt case: Pak PM Ashraf seeks more time from SC

Islamabad:  Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday reached Pakistan's Supreme Court to face a charge of contempt of court for refusing to reopen graft cases against President Asif Ali Zardari, the second premier to be summoned by the court on the same ground. Pakistani PM Raja Pervez Ashraf on Monday asked the Supreme Court to give him 4 to 6 weeks for consultations with legal experts.

Ashraf was driven to the main entrance of the apex court in a SUV shortly after 9 am.

Several federal ministers, including Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, and leaders of the ruling coalition arrived in the court earlier to appear alongside the premier as a show of solidarity.

The premier will appear before a five-judge bench headed by Justice Asif Saeed Khosa to respond to a contempt of court charge for refusing to revive the graft cases against the President in Switzerland.

Both Kaira and Malik told reporters outside the court that the Premier was appearing in the court as the ruling Pakistan People's Party had always respected the judiciary despite decisions that had gone against the party, including the "judicial murder" of PPP founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.Back




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