The coal scam might seem like a sudden explosion that has sent the United Progressive Alliance government scurrying for cover. In actuality, the scam has been brought into the open because of six years of mundane, painstaking, thankless work by one man - Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Chandrapur, Hansraj Ahir.
Chandrapur might not be Wasseypur, but its vast coal reserves have been a boon as well as a bane for this district in Eastern Maharashtra.
Ahir's story begins in the early 1990s, when he was a municipal corporator in Chandrapur. That was the time when the PV Narasimha Rao government at the Centre began "giving away" blocks of coal to private companies as part of its efforts to dismantle the country's "socialist" economy. "The state- owned Coal India began shrinking due to government apathy and hundreds lost their jobs in Chandrapur," recollects Ahir. "There are 27 coal mines in Chandrapur. Coal blocks were being given away for free".
After he became part of the standing committee of Parliament on coal and steel in 2004, Ahir realised that this is the case all over India and that private companies in collusion with government officials have unleashed havoc in various coal- rich parts of the country.
Ahir wrote to the prime minister and finance minister in 2006 asking for the allocation of coal blocks via auction. " Initially, they were positive. By 2009, I realised that the government only wants to help private companies," he said.
Undeterred by the government's tactics, Ahir complained to the CVC of irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks in 2009. On November 16 2010, Ahir informed the CAG that coal from the blocks allotted to private companies is not being used for production and is finding its way to the market.
It is this complaint that eventually blew the lid over one of the biggest scams in India's history. "Even the Rs 1.86 lakh crore projected by the CAG might be an underestimation. The actual loss could be as much as Rs50 lakh crore," Ahir asserted.
“In the coal blocks allocation scam, 1,700 crore tonnes of coal worth Rs. 51 lakh crore was given to 143 companies between 2006 and 2009 at throwaway prices … a bribe of Rs.100 per tonne was paid. Scam worth Rs.1.73-lakh crore has taken place in the allocation of these coal blocks,” Mr. Javadekar
Ahir alleges that Coal India, like many other stateowned enterprises has deliberatly been left to decay, just to help big private companies. Though a BJP MP, Ahir deeply admires the policies followed by Indira Gandhi. "She was right in nationalising all coal companies when she was the Prime Minister. National resources should be controlled by the state," believes Ahir.
Ahir's views might be at complete variance with the BJP's pro- reform stance, but he has proven to be indispensible to the party in its coal battle against the UPA. On being asked whether he would have become a whistleblower without his party's support, Ahir said, "I definitely wouldn't have reached where I have without my party, but I would still have done what is right".