India PM rejects calls for minister's exit over 'Coalgate'

NEW DELHI (AFP) - India's premier dismissed on Saturday calls for the resignation of the federal law minister who vetted a police report on alleged graft in awarding coal blocks before it was submitted to the top court.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told reporters in New Delhi there is "no question of the law minister resigning" and declined further comment, saying the matter was "in court and subjudice".

Mr Singh's statements came a day after the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said Law Minister Ashwani Kumar and officials of the prime minister's office and coal ministry saw the police report before it went to the Supreme Court.

The disclosure by the federal investigation agency has mired the already scandal-tainted Congress-led government in new controversy and sparked opposition demands for the resignations of both Mr Kumar and Mr Singh.

CBI director Ranjit Sinha said in an affidavit a "status" report on the agency's probe into the coal allotments was "shared" with Mr Kumar and other government officials "as desired by them" before being given to Supreme Court judges.

The CBI's report on what India's media has dubbed "Coalgate" is still to be made public.

But earlier in the week, a parliamentary panel said the coal blocks allocated between 1993 and 2010 were awarded in a "most non-transparent" manner to a "few fortunates" through the "abuse of power".

The panel urged the scrapping of the "illegal" allocations of the mines, creating fresh uncertainty in the energy sector which is plagued by shortages as India's growing economy consumes ever larger amounts of fuel.

Mr Singh, 80, in addition to his job as premier, served as coal minister from 2004-2009 and the opposition has blamed him for many of the allotment irregularities.

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