New row over $33bn coal scam could topple Indian prime minister

India's so-called Coalgate corruption scam which first broke in August last year, is back to haunt the ruling party  after it was revealed that the report by the country's Central Bureau of Investigation was in fact shared with politicians before its publications.

The original report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India found that 57 coal fields representing more than 44 billion tonnes of reserves, during the period 2005 to 2009, were allotted to 100 private companies in an opaque, subjective process instead of being publicly auctioned or opened for competitive bidding.

The coal block allocations meant the Indian government lost out on proceeds of at least $33 billion, but most estimates put that figure much higher. The scandal came in the wake of similar irregularities with the auctioning of cellular phone spectrum and corruption scandals in the iron ore mining and steel industries.

India Today reports CBI Director Ranjit Sinha told India's Supreme Court court that the report was not only shared with the law minister, but also with the Prime Minister's Office and the coal ministry prior to making it public.

Not surprisingly  opposition parties and anti-corruption groups have made fresh calls for a new probe, the release of the names of the beneficiaries of the scheme and the resignation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh:

Sources said the CBI had clarified that even though he [Law Minister Ashwani Kumar] had suggested alterations, it was not made part of its report.

The coal scam is particularly sensitive for the government because for some of the years under review, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was directly in charge of the coal ministry.

Reacting to the affidavit, lawyer Prashant Bhushan said: "What kind of independent investigation can we expect from the CBI when it shared the status report with PMO, law minister and coal ministry?"

Bhushan alleged that "many within the government tried to interfere with the report".

Image of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by imagemaker / Shutterstock.com