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Standstill in India over coal profits and public banks

India's opposition BJP party has begun a blockade of parliamentary proceedings to press Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign over a coal mining scandal. State auditors say firms have seen windfall profits since 2004.

For a second day in a row, India's parliament remained adjourned on Wednesday casting doubt on whether debate will take place on banking legislation that has prompted a major strike by Indian public sector bank employees.

Indien Unabhängigkeit Rotes Fort Delhi

India's premier Singh

Senior opposition leader Arun Jaitley said his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would use parliamentary stalling tactics in New Delhi until Singh, a former coal minister, took responsibility and resigned over the so-called "coalgate" scandal.

Indien Arun Jaitley von Bharatiya Janata Party

BJP's Jaitley wants Singh's resignation over "coalgate"

Auditors' findings critical

On Friday, India's Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had issued a report concluding that from 2004 until 2009 private companies had been handed mining rights without a transparent tender process. Huge profits had run into billions of euros for private operators, the CAG said.

Another senior opposition figure Venkaiah Naidu said the BJP would "continue to demand the resignation of the prime minister and the government," according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

But, the parliamentary affairs minister in Singh's Congress Party-led government, Pawan Kumar Bansal accused the BJP of avoiding an open debate that would expose BJP "skeletons."

Bansal said government efforts to introduce open bidding for coal resources had been held up by regional state governments, notably ones run by the BJP.

In 2010, Singh's government was bruised by a scandal over the murky sale of the mobile phone frequency spectrum, a row which led to the arrest of a minister.

Strike leaves banks shut

Up to one million public sector bank workers began their two-day strike on Wednesday. Some 87,000 branches were expected to remain shut, but the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) said most private and foreign banks would remain open.

A bank employee shouts slogans while holding placards at a rally during a two-day strike in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh

Indian workers fear job losses if public banks are further privatized

The National Organisation of Bank Workers spokesman Ashwani Rana said the government's intended legislation would make it "easier for corporates to take over" public sector banks.

Rana's association is one of nine trade unions that had called the strike after the failure of negotiations with the IBA banks' association.

A researcher at the New Delhi-based RPG Foundation think tank, D.H. Pai Panadiker said the unions had a "big fear" that more private sector investment would lead to banking job losses.

India's public sector banks account for about 75 percent of India's banking sector. Foreign ownership of public banks is currently capped at 20 percent.

The resistance is the latest to hamper attempted reforms of banking, insurance and retailing in Asia's third-largest economy.

In eastern Kolkata city, most public sector banks were also shut on Wednesday.

ipj/kms (dpa, PTI, AFP, Reuters)