We will withdraw idle coal blocks

Minister of state (independent charge) Sriprakash Jaiswal speaks to Sweta Ranjan of Governance Now


Sweta Ranjan | December 14, 2010

As an expanding economy looks for fuel for further growth, India needs to raise its coal production. But Sriprakash Jaiswal, minister of state (independent charge) for coal, faces challenges from the Maoists as well as from environmental lobbies. In an interview with Sweta Ranjan, Jaiswal discusses his plans to meet these challenges and also the future of the coal sector. Excerpts:

What effort is your ministry making to overcome the current shortage of coal? What steps are being taken to increase production?
We are a growing country, there is rapid growth in industrialization but even after remarkable growth in coal production we are not in a position to match demand and the deficit remains. This year we have seen a 75 percent growth in coal production. We are content with the performance but the demand has also increased. Our foremost target is to increase production but we are also making efforts to purchase coal properties in other countries so that demand can be met and met at an affordable price. If we purchase coal properties, do our own mining and bring in coal, it will definitely cost us less.

Do you think getting environmental clearances leads to delays in what your ministry seeks to accomplish?
India doesn’t produce good quality coal. Only 10 percent coal we produce is of good quality, the rest is of average. But if when we try to accelerate mining we face innumerable hindrances. The biggest problem is that the law and order situation is very bad in those states where coal is available. Whether it is Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal or Orissa, you are well aware of the problem of Maoists and problems pertaining to law and order. Because of this we are not able to do as much mining as we should be doing. Sometimes our officers and labourers are abducted. Sometimes they down the shutters for three days, sometimes for five days. And when there is a bandh no one can dare to come to work. These problems are very huge. Then there are problems related to land acquisition. Also, there is the hurdle of forest and environmental clearances. We try our best to increase production but certain things are not in our hands. 

There are reports that the Maoists have also started mining coal.
A few of them are doing mining but many Maoists run extortion rackets.

Why have we not been able to tackle the menace?
The government is doing its best to combat the Maoists, but this problem is bigger than it appears. The whole eastern India is facing this problem

How does your ministry take care of the interests of the tribals? 
One thing I know is that their genuine resentment should be understood. Without it, there won’t be any solution to the Maoist problem. There are just two ways to tackle this menace. First thing required is development and the second thing is to deal with them (Maoists) firmly. They don’t want development to happen—if it happens they will not have their way. They will not be able to execute their evil designs. We should identify them and deal with them sternly.

How much loss does Coal India suffer annually because of the Maoists?
We have not done any assessment of this sort. But we understand that if there is no Maoist activity we can double our production. Employees fear abduction. If this fear is removed, capacity utilisation would go up by 25 percent. If a solution of the Maoist problem is found, the coal sector will see tremendous growth.

In Jharkhand coal mafias are very active too.
Solving that problem is the job of the state government. We are aware that illegal mining is going on. Whichever state I visit I request the state governments (to take steps to counter it). I had met (West Bengal chief minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and I had told him that illegal mining results in huge losses for the country’s economy. He had assured me a special force would be set up to stop illegal mining but till now there is no sign of his assurance transforming into reality. I recently met the governor of Jharkhand on this issue. We can’t stop illegal mining, state governments should become more active.

What is the status of your talks with the environment ministry on ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ areas?
We have mutually decided that the MoEF classification of no-go areas is not final. Both the ministries will together decide on the classification. That will be the final decision.

Do you think things are favorable after finance minister Pranab Mukherjee’s intervention?
Things have improved. If we want to save the environment there are better ways to do so. We are ready for afforestation on a larger tract of land than what we use for mining. We should adopt a more pragmatic way to handle this matter. Mining should not be stopped even as we should be considerate towards environment.

You had also met prime minister Manmohan Singh on this issue. What was his response?
He has done whatever he assured me. He has resolved the issue. We don’t want to weaken the economic growth and we also don’t want to hamper wildlife. There should be a balance.

This issue led to a controversy. There were differences between two ministers who belong to the same party. Did you consult Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in this regard?
I felt the prime minister would be able to resolve the issue. He has resolved it to an extent. Had the matter been not  considered, I would have gone even to Sonia-ji.

Are you happy with the outcome?
When it is decided that there would be rectifications in the classification of forest areas, I am sure things would move in favour of my ministry. In the final decision on classification, our ministry’s views will also be taken into consideration. We will be equally involved in the identification of go and no-go areas.

You plan to set up an independent regulator for the coal sector. What would be its role?
The regulator’s role would be to keep a watch on mining, give its decisions (in case of disputes) and when required consider suggestions from our ministry.

When can we expect disinvestment of  Coal India? How much money do you plan to raise?
It should happen in October. Ten percent shares will be disinvested.

Do you plan to restructure Coal India?
At present our whole focus is on disinvestment. All this (restructuring) depends on how much money we are able to generate.

You have talked about private players in coal mining. What challenges do you see ahead?
Before my regime 200 blocks were given to the private sector. Work started only in 20-25 blocks. Many of the blocks are lying idle. We have given them show-cause notices. There are some genuine cases of those who have not been able to get environmental clearances. Some of them have not been able to acquire land. These cases will be given some consideration but the licences of the rest will be withdrawn. Licences of four blocks have been called off and in the next phase we are targeting 40 of them.  We plan to issue licences for these blocks through a bidding process.

With private players in mining and an independent regulator, is the government considering the development of a free market in coal?
I think this will assist us. We will be able to control black marketing and mafia raj. There will be less corruption. And the regulator will look into shortcomings, if there are any.



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