NEW DELHI – After being shouted down by opposition politicians in Parliament, India's prime minister took to Twitter on Monday to defend himself against a coal scandal roiling the country, saying accusations his government lost huge amounts of money were baseless.
Parliament has been all but paralyzed 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 $34 billion. The main opposition has demanded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's resignation.
Singh stood up in Parliament to make a statement defending his government, but was drowned out by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party who were screaming, "The prime minister must resign."
His office instead posted his defense on the microblogging site Twitter.
"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."
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, 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."
Speaking outside Parliament, Singh told reporters, "Let the country judge where the truth lies."
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. While 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 cellphone spectrum in an irregular process the auditor said cost the country tens of billions of dollars.
The new report from the Comptroller and Auditor General looked into the sale of 142 coalfields since 2004. It said the sales procedure "lacked transparency and objectivity" and accused the states of deciding who should get which fields. It exonerated Singh personally, even though he was running the ministry at the time, while he also held the prime minister's chair.
The auditor did blame the government for not swiftly changing the procedures to allow for auctions of the coal blocks, which presumably would have brought in more money.
In a detailed statement that Singh submitted in Parliament, the prime minister said it was the opposition BJP that created the system for selling off the coal blocks when it was in power. He argued that the shift to auctions as envisioned by the auditor's report would have taken years and could have damaged energy-starved companies and the economy as a whole. And he said opposition-ruled states, which recommended the recipients of the coal blocks, had opposed changing the rules.
Government officials also said any estimate of government losses was impossible because the coalfields were unexplored when they were sold.
The BJP said it would continue blocking Parliament and demanding Singh's ouster.
"He has only given a list of excuses. He is hiding the facts," said Prakash Javdekar, a BJP spokesman.
The opposition party also demanded that the coal block sales be canceled and auctions be held for all the blocks in question.
The opposition has repeatedly paralyzed Parliament over the past two years in protest over the corruption scandals, slowing work on important reform bills.
Singh lamented he was not able to present his case to legislators.
"I appeal to the opposition to come back to the House, to debate all these issues and let the country judge where the truth lies," he said.
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