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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Private companies may be permitted to commercially mine coal
NEW DELHI, Jul 21, 2014: The Modi government will initiate the process of allowing private companies to commercially mine coal and end the state monopoly after the public offer of shares of Coal India Ltd (CIL), official sources said.

"The new government is keen to allow private firms into commercial coal mining to increase supply of the fuel in the country. But we are not opening too many fronts at this moment. We will start discussions with stakeholders on commercial mining only after Coal India's public offer," a senior coal ministry official said. A roadmap to allow private commercial mining of coal will be prepared after an in-principle nod from all stakeholders is secured, he said.

CIL has not been able to increase output to match the surge in demand although it has huge reserves of the fuel. The Tatas, Adani, Anil Ambani group and others have successfully mined coal in India or abroad, but the law requires them to use their domestic output only for their own captive plants. Allowing them to sell coal in the market will give a big boost to industry, particularly power plants, and cut imports that amount to almost Rs 1 lakh crore a year.

The coal ministry will hold talks with trade unions of coal companies on opening up the sector after the public offer of CIL that is expected later this financial year. Opposition from trade unions has stalled an amendment to the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act to allow commercial coal mining since 2000.

The amendment bill was introduced in RajyaSabha in April 2000 and a group of ministers was constituted in 2001 to convince the trade unions. The panel was re-constituted in August 2009 under the chairmanship of the finance minister. However, the previous governments did not succeed in getting the bill cleared. CIL's trade unions are against the government's move to offload 10% in the company. The public offer could fetch Rs 23,000 crore, over half of the Rs 43,425 crore that the government proposes to mop up in 2014-15 from equity sale in state-run companies.

The coal ministry has already sought the law ministry's comments on amending the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act in the backdrop of the recently amended Mines and Minerals Regulation and Development Act that provides for coal block allotments through auction for captive use.

"The Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act was amended only recently to auction coal blocks. Now, we have a challenge in opening the coal sector as the amended act doesn't provide for bidding blocks to commercial purposes. We have approached the law ministry for comments," the official said. The government in the Economic Survey released on July 9 said there was an urgent need to fast track entry of the private sector in commercial coal mining to augment country's coal production and reduce imports of the fuel that costed Rs 95,175 crore in 2013-2014.

Commercial coal mining is widely seen as an answer to the increasing demand-supply gap of coal in the county and allowing private commercial mining is expected to increase competition, infuse new technology and lead to a market-based price discovery.

CIL is unable to meet the demand for coal in the country. The firm blames delayed environment and forest clearances for the slow growth in production. The captive coal blocks have also not come up as per expectations.

Of the 218 allocated mines, only 40-odd have come into production. The coal ministry has de-allocated 80 of these mines and most of the captive coal block companies have challenged the decision in courts.

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