Saturday, May 7, 2011

Interview with Sriprakash Jaiswal/Sachchi Baat/April 30, 2011

Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal spoke on Sahchi Baat on the problems and reforms in the sector.

Interview Excerpts:

You’ve been heading the coal ministry for three years with no allegations of taint. Comment?
I make all efforts possible to see that the ministry is not tainted by any allegations. Though people have been trying various ways to make false allegations, they have been unsuccessful. I don’t claim to have transformed the ministry. But I am confident that its functioning and image are much better today.

How did you tackle the shortage, serpentine queues, incidents of corruption and the coal mafia?
I admit that all these problems still persist, albeit on a much lesser scale. People have noticed a difference.

What problems did you face when you took charge of the ministry?
There were many middlemen and a lot of corruption and theft. I met chief ministers and put pressure on the state governments to solve these problems. But we cannot put a stop to coal theft unless the state police and state administration are with us. Unfortunately, we do not get the required cooperation from the state police and administration to tackle the theft issue. The law and order situation in the states that have coal, like West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, is bad.

Are you saying the coal mafia is active in these states?
The coal mafia has an active presence in these states.

Coal India’s operations and profits have vastly improved and large amounts of coal have been mined, Is it for export?
No, the country’s coal requirement has sky-rocketed in the past 5-6 years.

What about evacuation?
Evacuation of coal is a big problem; the railways are already over-burdened and hence we cannot get the required number of rakes for transporting the coal. But this year the supply of rakes has improved, so the problem is solved to some extent.

Isnt there also a problem with road transportation?

In the past two years, we have initiated 100 CBI raids regarding the issue, up from one or two earlier. The problem has lessened but not gone.

Have you estimated how much coal is lost due to theft, and then worked to bring it down to a certain amount?
No, I have not drawn an estimate as to how much coal is stolen pan-India. But it is true that if the theft of coal were stopped, we could use this invaluable resource to the country’s benefit.

Give us some estimate of the loss due to theft? How much worth of coal is sold in the country every year?
That is not known. Also, since there are many ways of stealing coal--from trains, storage godowns, trucks and coal beds though illegal mining. People might draw independent estimates, but the exact quantity of coal stolen cannot be known.

Over 40 lakh tonnes of coal is currently lying in stock. If the private sector was at the helm of affairs, would it have allowed such a huge amount of coal to be stored?
There are many reasons to keep the coal stock.

On one hand inflation is rising in the country, on the other adequate amount of coal is not being supplied. Comment?
All the power manufacturing companies in the country carry a minimum coal stock of 15 days. Some years ago, they did not even have 3-5 days’ stock.

But you are still importing 30 lakh tonnes of coal at Rs 4,000 a tonne. Doesn’t this increase the cost of electricity production, its eventual price and result in inflation?
We have not increased prices for power companies. When we hiked prices, we exempted the power manufacturing companies.

Why don’t you procure coal from Coal India and put a ban on imports?
Do you think there is no shortfall of coal in the country; indeed, there is shortage of coal in the country today.

But what about the huge stock?
There is still a shortfall of 70 lakh million tones in the country. Even after considering the stocked coal, this might be over in the coming days.

But you can again excavate it; we have huge coal resources in the country.
Yes, more coal can be excavated. But we are not getting the required number of rakes to transport it, hence we have to keep stock.

Hasn’t the Planning Commission laid down parameters about the number of rakes needed to attain a certain percentage of growth?
The Commission makes plans while keeping in mind the needs of the whole country. There is a 5-10 per cent margin of error while making those plans. Take the example of our rake requirement, there might actually be a problem of loading rather than a rake shortfall. When strikes happen time and again, work is stopped for three days to weeks.

You have so many blocks to the private sector; 70 to 80 per cent of which have not become operational. If all these blocks were operational, what would have happened.
We have sent a showcause notice to all of them and sought replies, which we are now examining.

Some players have got licences many ago but not started work?
Production of coal from blocks is a 5-6 year process. But action will be taken against people who have got their licence 4-5 years ago and not achieved any milestone as yet.

How many cancellations are possible in the next four five months?
Ten to 20 per cent of the allotments might be cancelled. Out of which, half of the coal blocks belong to the government sector and have been handed over to the state governments, state PSUs and NTPC. We are thinking of giving some extension to the state government PSUs that have not achieved any milestone as yet.

Have you appointed a committee for the same?
Yes, a committee has been formed six months ago under the chairmanship of an additional secretary level officer. It is studying the replies of the defaulting companies that have been allotted coal blocks and will tell us if they are true or false.

Do you think the growth of the coal ministry is being hindered because the environment ministry will not permit mining in the forests?
The environment ministry does its job, which is to save the environment and forests. We run the coal ministry; our aim is to see that a large amount of coal is produced.

So you would not start a coal mine if it affected the environment of the area?
Our job is to conserve the environment as much as possible and also to ensure the growth of the country.

Is Jairam Ramesh the only man taking care of the environment?
The work of saving the environment is his.

Then why did you object to the policies proposed by him ?
We said we don’t want to enter dense forests. But we should be allowed mining activity in smaller forests on the condition that we will increase afforestation by 2.5-3 times.

So, did he agree with your point?
It is being listened to. The Prime Minister has formed a group of ministers, following which many of our projects were cleared. There is a sea of difference between the condition prevailing three months ago and now.

But Ramesh did try to stop you?
It was his responsibility to save the environment and forests. So, he did nothing wrong by trying to stop us. But if we tried to fast-track our projects, we too did nothing wrong. Our job is to increase coal production as much as possible.

1 comment:

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