New Delhi: An aggressive opposition today targeted the government and paralysed Parliament over the issue of missing files related to the coal block allocations, in turn scuttling the consideration of the much-touted Food Security Bill.
Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha saw heated exchanges over coal files, with the Opposition pressing for a statement by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, disregarding an explanation by Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal.
In the Rajya Sabha, Jaiswal said no stone would be left unturned in tracing the documents to be provided to the CBI and he was ready to accept any punishment if found guilty.
At the same time, he posed a challenge to Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley asking as to what punishment he would undergo if the case was otherwise.
The opposition, while pressing for a statement by the Prime Minister, asked Jaiswal to recuse himself from replying for the sake of "propriety" as the missing files reportedly relate to a beneficiary of coal block allocation who is linked to the Minister.
Raising the issue in the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj reminded the Government that the Prime Minister had taken "full responsibility" for the decisions of the Coal Ministry in a statement he made in the House on August 27 last year as he had held the portfolio between 2006 and 2009.
She wanted the Speaker to direct the Prime Minister to make a statement.
Amid cries of "shame-shame" and "pradhan mantri jawab do", Swaraj alleged that the files including applications for coal blocks had gone missing as some big shots of the Congress were involved.
Congress members from Andhra Pradesh and Rayalseema region along with TDP members were also agitating against formation of Telangana state.
In the process, the Food Bill could not be taken up for consideration today, the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"All efforts are being made to locate documents which are not readily available...My Ministry would leave no stone unturned in tracing and providing the documents sought by the CBI," Jaiswal said.
He said a total of 769 files and documents running into 1.5 lakh pages have been handed over to CBI.
Conceding that some files are missing, he said a Committee headed by an additional secretary has been set up to look into the issue and any action will be taken only after its report.
Jaiswal said some documents belonging to a period prior to 2004 are missing and appeared to point accusing fingers at BJP by asking whose interest would be served in the loss of files of pre-2004 period.
Earlier Jaitley alleged that "files don't disappear, they are made to disappear".
The BJP leader said, "the files contain evidences of arbitrary allotments...The evidence of crime are in those files...If files disappear, the possibility of their escaping the punishment for a crime is obviously there."
He said destruction of evidence in a case being probed by CBI and monitored by Supreme Court is in itself a crime. "Has the Minister registered any FIR? Have you taken any legal recourse," he asked.
Jaitley said there are media reports that one of the beneficiaries of the coal block allocation was somebody with whom the Coal Minister was related.
"If files relating to that allocation are missing, should he be making a statement on those files. I want to know from the Chair that on account of this conflict of interest, should he make the statement...If not direct, it is a case of indirect involvement," said Jaitley.
"Propriety demands that the Minister should voluntarily not speak...It should be the Prime Minister who should speak," said Najma Heptulla (BJP), asking the Chair to give a ruling in this regard.
Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP) said Jaiswal should "at least voluntarily recuse himself" from replying on the issue.
Supporting the demand, Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said, "The House must know how these files are missing. It is appropriate that the Minister then incharge should make the statement how the files went missing."