Gunga Din, FIR likho

IN Opinion | 19/10/2013
TV news went delirious with delight. Programming for three days was assured. But a large part of the print media firmly stuffed a handkerchief into its mouth.
Only the Hindu Business Line wrote a sensible edit, says DARIUS NAKHOONWALA

You don’t say!
Darius Nakhoonwala

The really important news last week was the FIR lodged by the CBI against Mr K M Birla, boss of the huge Birla empire of Rs 1.9 lakh crore, and the former coal secretary, P C Parakh.


We can’t, said the CBI after having filed the FIR, understand why the latter overturned a decision that no coal block would be allotted to the former. Nor, it said, were we convinced by Mr Parakh’s explanation when we enquired from him.


Industry went ballistic. How dare you, it screeched sotto voce, to a respected pillar of India’s business community?


Mr Parakh also saw red. If I am guilty of a conspiracy, he asked the CBI, how about the Good Doctor Manmohan Singh who was the coal minister at the time?


The Opposition went ape, delighted at the turn of events. The Congress tugged at its tattered fig leaf, except when it hid its face it exposed some other part and when it hid that, the face was in full view.


TV news went delirious with delight. Programming for three days was assured.


But a large part of the print media firmly stuffed a handkerchief into its mouth. The Hindu did not write an edit.


Nor did the Hindustan Times, which is owned by a Birla family member; indeed, it did not even cover the news.


Its sister, Mint also did not write an edit (though its editor wrote a signed piece saying they had reported the news and that there had been no pressure on him from anyone).  


The Times of India skirted around the issue in a very ladylike way, focussing on larger issues, viz “The investigative agency seems ill-equipped to deal with economic crimes and what we have seen so far indicates investigators are unsure of basic economic concepts.”


The Indian Express wrote gently about the generalised problem of allocating natural resources, about the CAG’s methods of calculating presumptive losses to the exchequer and generally waffled on. It did make valid concluding point: “If the government is to dig up decade-old cases, it's easy to see the bureaucracy kicking even routine decisions all the way up to the cabinet.”


The Pioneer was ecstatic and focused on the PM. “After former Coal Secretary PC Parakh's explosive comments on the role of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the coal block allocation irregularities, there is no way that the latter can get away with his trademark silence…the Prime Minister should not escape investigation… Why did the Prime Minister, who was then the Coal Minister too, not shoot down a proposal which was obviously flawed…”


The Telegraph whose edits have been losing it for some time now, had this waffle to offer. “No one can question its right to investigate and file reports on coal block allocations… (But) The CBI fails to meet its own standards of transparency. It is not difficult to accept that everything was not above board in the allocation of coal blocks. But this is quite different from saying that every allocation was corrupt…” and on and on.


Strangely, Business Standard which tends to be forthright, also picked its way about gingerly. “Certainly, investigation of such decisions must proceed… Presumably the CBI has much more than it is currently disclosing… the more relevant question now is whether the CBI would have filed an FIR in the absence of a clear indication of quid pro quo for the allocation of the coal block to Hindalco…Sadly, the answer to that question is far from clear.” It then asked the CBI to “make public as much of its findings as it can without jeopardising its inquiries.”


Only the Hindu Business Line wrote a sensible edit. Like the Express it talked about the CAG’s strange methodology, going on to say that “the question, at least from the point of view of criminal justice, is whether there was a conspiracy to sell the country’s assets short… (does) the CBI think it has a prima facie case.. What is the agency going to do about Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who, as Coal Minister, signed off on the award?.. But a criminal investigation should be conducted fairly — in this context, independently of a meddlesome Centre, of a Supreme Court that runs the risk of over-reaching itself, and of an exaggerated CAG number that has unfortunately become synonymous with the scam.”

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