* Draft report says government should have auctioned coal
* Similar investigation of telecoms sales rocked government
NEW DELHI, March 22 India lost up to $210
billion in revenue by selling coal deposits too cheaply,
according to a government auditor's draft report, renewing
pressure on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is already
reeling from corruption scandals.
Opposition parties reacted with outrage in parliament on
Thursday to the report, which was leaked to the Times of India.
The session was adjourned and the government said it would
respond once it had verified the facts.
"We are examining the news report and I have called for
records. After that I will reply," Coal Minister Sriprakash
Jaiswal told reporters.
The leaked draft from the Comptroller and Auditor General's
(CAG) office criticises the government for allocating 155
valuable coalfields to about 100 private and some state-run
miners instead of auctioning them off to the highest bidder.
It said the policy undervalued the coal by at least 10.7
trillion rupees, or $210 billion at today's exchange rate.
"This is the mother of all scams," said Venkaiah Naidu, a
senior leader in the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. "The
prime minister should reply."
Prime Minister Singh, who himself oversaw the coal ministry
during some of the period in question, declined to reply to
questions by reporters at parliament.
A similar investigation over the allocation of telecoms
licences led to huge protests that rocked Singh's government
last year and landed a minister and several company executives
in jail. In the telecoms scandal, officials are accused of
taking bribes to favour certain companies.
Jaiswal said he was not serving as minister during the
period under scrutiny and that the government policy was now to
auction coal blocks.
The coal minister was expected to reply in parliament later
on Thursday after consulting with the prime minister's office. A
CAG source said the report would probably be presented to
parliament in the next few days.
(Reporting by Nigam Prusty, Manoj Kumar and Ratnajyoti Dutta.
Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by John Chalmers)