Coal India Ltd. (CIL), which produces over 80 per cent of the country’s coal, received a Christmas gift from the Centre last week. A bounty that would help the world’s single-largest coalminer to start work on about 15 coal projects slicing through some of the time-consuming environmental procedures.
The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which is now playing a proactive role to help increase coal supplies, has asked the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) to make necessary changes in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification of 2006 so that public hearings are done away with and environment clearances come fast. This would enable these projects to ramp up production by 25 per cent, adding about 45 million tonnes annually and about 160 million tonnes within this Plan period, which mandates CIL to add 180 million tonnes additionally. It was learnt that CIL was petitioning the MoEF for long for this relaxation given the fact that due diligence had already been done on these projects.
In a way, this symbolises the proactive role played by the PMO through the year. At times, nudging the country’s monopoly producer to give its best, at times, creating a more enabling atmosphere for the giant to perform.
It started with the issue of fuel supply agreements (FSAs), which CIL’s independent directors found to be an imposition, but the fact remains that in doing so, the PMO has taken the consumers’ sentiment in its reckoning too. “The power sector’s mood is now better,” said an analyst. In the case of price-pool issue too, the PMO tried its level best to talk out issues as the demand-supply scenario made it clear that import of coal would be inevitable.
However, it is not only on sensitive issues such as price-pooling , FSAs or environmental clearances — the PMO has taken a lead role in almost all issues, including some apparently routine and less contentious ones such as mechanism for detailed exploration by the Central Mine Planning and Design Institute of India (CIL subsidiary) and introduction of new technology. It has also taken meetings on the issue of constituting an empowered group like the Foreign Investment Promotion Board for single-window mechanism for clearing coal projects given the fact that some projects are pending for seven to eight years.
Coal sector experts say and CIL senior management concur that the role played by the PMO has put CIL back on the growth track even as it put matters in perspective while sensitising all about the obstacles faced by CIL in its task.
And arguably, the PMO’s intervention has come in at the right time. At a recent talk here, C. Rangarajan, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, had flagged sectoral constraints such as availability of coal and shortage of electric power as two areas of concern saying that these needed to be tackled.
This will enable these projects to ramp up production by 25 per cent