Despite being elected thrice to the Lok Sabha from Chandrapur, a small town in Vidarbha, few people in his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, knew of Hansraj Gangaram Ahir, or paid him any notice. Not anymore.
In fact, he’s quite the star now as the man who single-handedly brought to light the alleged irregularities in the allocation of coal blocks by the United Progressive Alliance government between 2006 and 2009.
Now senior leaders of the BJP leadership have started to smile at him, and party elder Lal Krishna Advani even waved at him when he saw him in the corridors of Parliament. Sushma Swaraj, leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, has found a nickname for him — ‘coal nayak’.
However, the journey of becoming ‘coal nayak’ was not easy. Ahir says he found out that coal blocks were being allocated to private companies free of cost during a meeting of the standing committee (of Parliament) on coal and steel in 2005. He then wrote a letter to Shibu Soren, then coal minister, asking him not to allot the 26 blocks identified in Maharashtra but did not get a favourable response.
“In 2006, I started writing letters to the prime minister (Manmohan Singh), cabinet ministers and Planning Commission because I felt that the property of the nation was being looted. But I didn’t get any response. I only received receipts of my letters; no action was taken. The prime minister’s office never wrote back saying that they would investigate the issue,” says Ahir. In the process of researching the issue, Ahir discovered that private companies who had got coal blocks were not using them, defeating the government’s purpose in allocating coal blocks to them. He also learnt that some companies had started selling the coal blocks.
“I didn’t realise when I began that it would turn out to be so big,” he says now.
After the 15th Lok Sabha was constitution in May 2009, Ahir brought up the issue with senior BJP leaders during a meeting of party MPs. Advani, Swaraj and Arun Jaitley were convinced of his findings, but were reluctant to take up the issue since he didn’t have enough documents to support his claims. “The three leaders told me to keep working and when the time was right, BJP would take it up in a big way. They wanted me to collect evidence. Since I was a member of the steel and coal committee of Parliament, I was asked to do thorough research on the allegations,” Ahir says.
In October that year, Ahir wrote a letter to the Central Vigilance Commission asking it to investigate the issue. But there was little progress. Meanwhile, he had collected relevant documents to support his claims and wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General in November 2010, asking for an audit of the allocation process. CAG forwarded the letter to CVC and the CVC asked CBI to investigate the case.
And the rest is history.
Ahir says he has been inspired by V D Savarkar, the right-wing ideologue, and has read all books written on him, since he was in school. The 58-year-old MP is an undergraduate.
Interestingly, even though Ahir’s probe and CAG’s findings are now giving sleepless nights to the Union government, politicians from Maharashtra say that no one from the Congress has ever tried to discredit his efforts.