Squandering away our precious mines
The recommendation by an inter-ministerial (IMG) panel to de-allocate 29 captive coal blocks of companies, including a number of power majors such as Essar Power, Hindalco, Tata Power and Jindal Steel and Power, indicates that noose is tightening on errant corporates which are collectively responsible for losses to the tune of over Rs 1.8 lakh crore to the government exchequer. Most of these private sector companies not only obtained the coal block allocation on false claims, showing levels of preparation and technology available far above the actual, but they are also guilty of not developing the blocks after they were wrongfully allocated the mines. Moreover, as per the CAG report tabled in Parliament, windfall gains and other, often illicit, modes of profit accrued by these companies ensured that the public coffer was shorn off Rs 1,85,591 crore not only because of unjust allocation, but also due to hoarding of the priceless natural resource to be sold to foreign bidders at much higher prices. Sitting on the coal blocks without developing them as required by the allocation agreement, producing coal at rates far short of target envisaged by the Planning Commission, not upgrading inadequate drilling capacities, under-utilisation of heavy earth moving machinery, unequal distribution of coal to small and medium consumers, among others, have been the many criminalities of the companies. Clearly, the IMG is right in pronouncing that 29 coal blocks be de-allocated, given that coal produced through captive mining was priced much higher, even though the blocks were allocated without a transparent and objective mechanism of proper competitive bidding.