Inter-Ministerial Group meeting held to review 58 coal blocks inconclusive; next meet on September 6

Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal on Monday denied links with any of the companies that were allocated coal blocks during UPA I and II and asserted that no decision to cancel the allocation would be taken until the Inter-Ministerial Group (IMG) submitted its report.

“The IMG is reviewing 58 coal blocks. It has been asked to submit its report in a time-bound manner, the latest by September 15. Only after that will we take a view on what needs to be done. The number of coal blocks that have been reviewed and issued show-cause notices so far stands at 58. Of these, 20 are those which have figured in the CAG report,” Mr. Jaiswal told reporters here.

The IMG, headed by Additional Secretary (Coal) Zohra Chatterjee, has issued show-cause notices and advisories to 58 companies, including 25 private firms, for failing to develop the mines allotted for captive use within the given time-frame. Reliance Power, Tata Power, Hindalco, Grasim Industries, ArcelorMittal, GVK Power, Jindal Steel and Power and MMTC figure in the list.

Mr. Jaiswal said he had not received any direction from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to expedite and complete the process by September 6. “I have not received any such instruction. No coal block was allocated during my tenure,” he said.

The CAG, in its recent report, stated that private firms made undue gains to the tune of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore on account of allocation of 57 mines to them and a part of it could have accrued to the national exchequer. The CBI is already probing 12 firms that were granted licences in fast track mode but have not started operations.

Replying to a question, Mr. Jaiswal said he had no link with Manoj Jaiswal-led Abhijeet Group, which has a presence in power, roads, mining, EPC, ferroalloys, steel and cement. Three coal blocks, allocated to Abhijeet Group’s subsidiary, Abhijeet Infrastructure, in May, 2005, have come under the CAG scanner.

PMO seeks action

The meeting of the IMG to review the show-cause notices issued to 58 companies that were given coal blocks remained inconclusive on Monday, even as the PMO pressed for action against these firms. The IMG is expected to meet again on September 6 to take a decision on de-allocation.

The IMG meeting comes close on the heels of a strong note issued by the PMO to Coal Secretary S.K. Srivastava.

“It is expected that the IMG will exercise due diligence and record all specific reasons for recommending de-allocation [of the mines],” a note issued by Mr. Srivastava to the IMG head has stated. “Concern has been expressed by the PMO at the Ministry not initiating action… on de-allocation of blocks… They [the PMO] have advised the Ministry to expedite all matters on a priority basis. It is requested that within a week, or 10 days maximum, Additional Secretary (Coal) Zohra Chatterjee, who also heads the IMG, may keep two full days, or if need be three days, for the… purpose and complete the entire exercise of all the cases wherein show-cause notices have been issued and give detailed recommendations… within September 10, or latest by September 15.”

Interestingly, Mr. Srivastava had only a few days earlier questioned the IMG’s decision to recommend de-allocation of the Jitpur and Lohari coal blocks, saying that no guidelines had been finalised and it was not understood how the IMG had taken such a decision. However, Ms. Chatterjee replied that the IMG could make only recommendations and action had to be taken by the government or the competent authority.

Sources in the government said the IMG, at Monday’s meeting, took on record the replies filed by various companies to the show-cause notices and asked them to give additional information by September 6. The IMG is also learnt to have taken up 18 cases of bank guarantee deduction. It deliberated on the guidelines that would form the basis for making recommendations on the amount of guarantee to be deducted uniformly and transparently from all allottees who delayed development of the blocks.

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