2 Indian ministers resign in latest gov't scandals

2 Indian ministers resign in political, financial scandals that further taint Singh government

Associated Press

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Two key Indian ministers resigned late Friday in the latest political and financial scandals to tarnish Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's minority government less than a year before parliamentary elections.

The opposition blocked proceedings in Parliament after the scandals came to light more than a week ago, demanding the resignations of the two ministers as well as the prime minister.

Singh's government has been wracked by controversy in recent years, including troubles surrounding the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the poorly run sale of cellphone rights and an alleged misallocation of coal fields that auditors said lost the country of billions of dollars.

Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Law Minister Ashwani Kumar have handed their resignations to Singh, an official in the prime minister's office said, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Bansal quit after one of his relatives was accused of accepting a bribe in exchange for a plum appointment on the railway board.

"Yes, I have resigned," Bansal told reporters.

Kumar resigned as the government was embarrassed by India's top court objecting to his rewriting a draft investigation report into a controversial coal deal to soften its criticism of the government. Federal investigators are examining how coal blocks were sold to private companies without competitive bidding.

Ranjit Sinha, director of Central Bureau of Investigation, submitted an affidavit to the court earlier this week saying that the draft investigative report on the coal allocation scam was vetted by Kumar and other government officials before it was submitted to the court.

In the railway ministry case, opposition leaders allege that Bansal's relatives have enriched themselves by trading on their connections with the minister.

Federal investigators said they have arrested five people, including ministry official Mahesh Kumar, who allegedly paid 9 million rupees ($166,000) to Bansal's nephew Vijay Singla to get a plum appointment to the railway board.

Indian media reports say the money paid was part of a 100 million rupees ($1.85 million) payoff to secure for Kumar the key position with control over awarding huge contracts to private parties for signal and telecom equipment.

Singh's governing coalition split after he decided early this year to push through a series of economic reforms, including fuel subsidies and letting in foreign retailers. It is surviving with the support of two powerful regional groups.

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