Amid corruption probe, India coal ministry loses evidence

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's opposition angrily denounced the government on Monday after the coal ministry admitted it had lost some files and was unable to turn them over to a high-profile corruption enquiry.

The federal Central Bureau of Investigation is investigating how the coal ministry, which was headed by current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from 2004-2009, allocated mining licences.

The national auditor alleged last year that the ministry had given away tens of billions of dollars in windfall gains to 100 private and some state-run firms - sparking a police investigation into whether kickbacks were paid in exchange.

Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal admitted on Saturday that some files from 1993 to 2004 were missing and that a committee headed by a senior ministry official was investigating the matter.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which called for Mr Singh to step down when the scandal erupted, said the government bore responsibility for the vanished files.

"Obviously we hold the government responsible for the disappearance of evidence... if something in my custody goes missing, I am culpable since it was my responsibility to begin with," said BJP spokesman Meenakshi Lekhi.

"Now that these files have vanished, no one knows what transpired. In these circumstances, the least the government must do is to cancel all the licences, now that we have no evidence to show if the contracts were valid," Ms Lekhi said.

"This should not derail the investigation. It must go on," she added.

Parliament was adjourned temporarily on Monday amid the uproar questioning the disappearance of the files.

Mr Singh's coalition government, dominated by the left-leaning Congress party, has been beset by a string of corruption cases in recent years. The latest allegations of mismanagement have piled pressure on him ahead of elections due by next year.