India parliament adjourns early amid fresh scandal

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's parliament was forced to adjourn early on Wednesday, stalling its economic reform drive, with the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh weighed down by scandals.

The government, rocked by repeated controversies, has been put on the backfoot again over revelations that the law minister interfered in a federal probe into the alleged illegal awarding of coalfields at cut-rate prices.

The government has also been hit by the arrest of the railway minister's nephew for allegedly demanding a US$160,000 (S$197,000) bribe to arrange a plum promotion for a railway official.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rebuked the government for meddling in the coal allotment investigation, calling it a "sordid saga" and describing the federal police agency as a "caged parrot" speaking "in its master's voice".

The rows led parliament to adjourn two days early as a determined opposition said it would refuse to allow any legislative debate until both the law minister and the railway minister resigned.

The premature end to the session meant the government could not pass a key economic reform bill aimed at drawing more foreign investment or its landmark food security measure to supply heavily subsidised food to millions of poor.

But the setbacks for the Congress also came on a rare day of good news for the left-leaning party that boosted its confidence ahead of 2014 national polls.

Congress wrested back the southern state of Karnataka in elections from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party which had been felled by local corruption scandals.