Millennium Post

Remove coal block irritants fast

Coal mining issues are getting murkier increasingly in the country.  Like the previous Congress led-government, the incumbent NDA too seems groping into holed-up challenges and cannot find much light beyond the tunnel. The opportunity is unique this time in the NDA government as the main party BJP is now armed with the single largest mandate, enough to institute its bold decisions, albeit through a consensus for the sake of the country’s unchallenged efforts towards energy security.

For the power ministry, enough time has already been wasted. The ground realities and challenges that abound in the allocated coal blocks are yet to be addressed. It is now a national problem and the concerned ministries and the PMO must be able to take measures enough to commence mining in the idle blocks.

There are two terms here, Sustainability, and Energy Security, which are parameters of Six Sigma Quality education needed to be understood. Power sector ministries and the PMO need to address these two words to their core qualitative exploitation, and make the core area operating officials understand these.

Throughout 2010 to 2013, the Power and Coal ministries and the PMO, under the UPA-II government, have been handling the high-profile spat between NTPC and the Coal India Limited (CIL) over the quality of combustible coal supplied by the latter to the former.

There were also irritants, one, the hikes in cost of production and, two, affordable supply of only quality coal to NTPC and private power companies. These two issues were repeatedly raised by the CIL, and justifiably to an extent.

Eventually, these issues were found to be the main irritants in the delay in signing the fuel sale agreements (FSAs) between the CIL and the power generating companies, despite Presidential ordinance during President Smt Pratibha Devi Singh Patil’s tenure.

Throughout these years, the country witnessed how tens of allocated coal blocks have gone unexploited as production could not commence. Many talks did round about these block owners, that means the beneficiary companies, that they were the ‘favoured’ sacred cows of the honchos in the government over the past years and that many of these ‘sacred cows’ were non-operational about the blocks because of a number of factors. These include: the cost overrun, the underground intent to sell them off at a fortune later, the law and order profile of the block vicinity impossible to start operation, the popular resentment of the locals armed with sustainability knowledge imparted by the environmentalists and vested interests among the native political leaders, the fear psychosis caused by the underground mafia ring having probable connections as deep as in the national political network, and the inertia or lack of knowledge about developing opportunities alternative to deforestation caused by mining.

Here one thing to be kept in mind is that, the concept of mining is always driven by the notion of minimal mining. Therefore, with abundant talents in Indian universities, finding out alternatives to deforestation is not an arduous task. Both sides, the power and coal ministries and the PMO, need to take a hard look at this.

Nor it is difficult to relocate the dislodged flora and fauna. The problem is, the Indian power sector has always been pivoted by the trusted functionaries in incumbent political forces and not the scientists, who know the job better. Therefore, the right people have seldom been in the right places. It was the wrong interests which bore the torch for the pits of the coal blocks. After all mining, afforestation, and relocation of the dislodged flora and fauna are absolute scientific tasks in the power sector, and all advanced countries follow these scientific norms.  

Very often in the non-functional coal block areas, environmentalists spread the talks of damage to flora and fauna uniquely native to the block localities in the forests. If asked how much of that is exactly unique would go unanswered in scientific terms, because most of the environmentalists are not scientists, even as they do populist politics. Issues emerging from this front also include the one about adequate compensation to the land-holders and the tribal people living in the concerned forests.

The challenges of law and order around the block vicinity and the mafia ring are not un-thwartable. If governance is the prime motto of the incumbent government today, it is high time that such issues had been handled adroitly through the bureaucracy.

Many things can be done if there is the real political will. There is no dearth of wealth in the exchequer for assuaging popular resentments over compensation, and doing it on a fast-track. Jan Dhan Yojana is a solid step, if implemented without cooked up glitches. No mafia is stronger than a committed police force or an army or a BSF unit, anywhere in the country. No court is weak to handle the political bigwigs who surreptitiously keep links with and bless the mafia chain around the coal blocks.

We simply did not want to do things in the right track all these years. Shall we do it now, Mr Modi? Please? IPA

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