Shadowboxing over coal
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A coal mine worker in Jharkhand and an expert on the coal industry called to protest against what he called was the noora kushti (shadowboxing) going on in Delhi. The power of the coal players was earlier seen in Jharkhand politics, he said, but now we see it in Delhi. Our players are small, yours are big and powerful. With the CBI itself unearthing prima facie evidence of gross manipulation and wrongdoing in the allocation of coal blocks, the defence of the ruling party that everything is hunky dory and this is just enemy propaganda, falls flat. There is growing evidence of "big players" involved, which is why the Left parties' demand of a time-bound high level inquiry into the entire process of allocations, including the functioning of the screening committee, the recommendations from individual ministers or MPs that require scrutiny, is entirely justified. Of the 76 or so private companies who were allocated coal blocks, few have operationalised the contracts. The government guidelines clearly and specifically state that in the blocks where exploration has been done, the company has to start operations in 36 months for open cast mining and 48 months for underground mining along with specific goals within this period. Instead, while these targets have not been met, the allocations have been used speculatively, as assets to push up share valuations, making windfall gains while the public exchequer was deprived of revenue and the nation lost valuable natural resources. No action has been taken.
There is another aspect to coal policy that has escaped attention in this debate — the losses suffered by lakhs of families who are forcibly displaced due to land acquisition. The companies are supposed to be responsible for their resettlement, but there is no audit done, no information available as to what the actual position is. It is as if their interests have nothing to do with policies regarding the allocation of mines to private companies who use strong arm methods to throw them off the land.