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Jharkhand distances itself from coal block allocation

29 Oct 2013

The Jharkhand government submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court on Monday distancing itself from controversial coalfield allocations, after the centre tried to convince the apex court that the allotments had been made in line with the recommendations of states where the mines were located.
Jharkhand is the first of seven states that have been directed by the Supreme Court to respond to the Centre’s claim that state administrations had been involved in all stages of the allocation process.
Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal are the other states that have been asked to file affidavits, as the court tries to identify the specific role of state governments, the screening committee that looked at applications, the coal ministry and other central government arms in the process of allocation.
The Jharkhand affidavit, a copy of which was reviewed by Mint, said the coal “blocks are allocated by the government of India, Ministry of Coal”. To substantiate its claims, the state government also submitted some “allocation letter issued by the government of India”.
The matter arises out of an item of public interest litigation (PIL) that challenged the controversial allotment of captive coalmines to power, steel and mining companies between 1993 and 2010. 
The Comptroller and Auditor General of India, the government auditor, said last year that the exchequer had suffered a notional loss of Rs.1.86 trillion in the coalfield allocations.
The affidavit, responding to specific queries of the court, also said that “interested parties (who want coal mines) apply directly to the government” and that the role of the state government is limited to the extent of sending “its opinion” while the screening committee considers such applications. It also says that state government sends recommendations to the Centre only where “interested parties approach the state government directly”.
The special Supreme Court bench, headed by justice R.M. Lodha, issued notices to the seven states on 26 September and posed specific questions pertaining to the states’ understanding of coalfield allocations, its own role in the allocations and subsequent stages.
Amid allegations by the petitioners, lawyer M.L. Sharma and civil society group Common Cause, that state public-sector undertakings (PSUs) entered into joint ventures with private companies after coalfields were allocated to the PSUs, Jharkhand has submitted the details of allottee PSUs and the status of their agreements with private parties—whether entered into or not or failure of some PSUs to respond.
The petitioners had also alleged that in most such joint ventures, the state PSU had a minority shareholding, and that the sole purpose of these agreements was to help private companies make profits. The court, noting the allegation, had posed a specific query in this regard.
Supreme Court’s notices to the state effectively widened the inquiry into the coal block allocation because the PIL did not make any state or private party respondents in the case. As a result, so far only the Union government has had to make submissions on the allocations.
The presence of the seven states is expected to give some breathing space to the Centre, which has been under immense pressure to produce detailed responses—supported by records—to the apex court’s queries.
The court has set a deadline of 29 October for completion of the process.
An affidavit was also filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation seeking enlargement of its investigation team, indicating the widening scope of the investigation. The affidavit says that reasons for the addition will be handed to the court in a sealed envelope. A similar request had been granted by the court earlier on 18 July.
Deciding on the request, the court will also peruse the status report filed by CBI detailing the progress made in the investigation on 29 October, when the matter comes up for hearing.
Source: Live Mint