Centre re-examining 9 coal mine bids, House panel nod for bill

New Delhi, March 18:

Even as the central government races against time to secure legislative sanction for the auction of cancelled coal blocks before parliament goes into its scheduled month-long recess on Friday, it is “re-examining” nine winning bids out of the 33 coal blocks auctioned so far.

coal mineThe development comes even as the bill which seeks to replace the ordinance under which mines are being e-auctioned, was approved on Tuesday by a Rajya Sabha panel, paving the way for its passing by the upper house.

The coal ministry will take a decision this week on whether there are any price discrepancies in case of the nine winning bids, including those made by companies like Jindal Steel and Balco.

The final decision on whether mine winning companies like Hindalco, Jindal Steel and Power, Jaypee Cements and Usha Martin would depend on the re-examination of these bids by the auction nominated authority.

Five of these blocks belong to Schedule III (near operational) category, while four are under Schedule II (operational), a coal ministry official told IANS on Wednesday.

The ministry is considering whether these bids were too low when compared with the winning bids for other similar blocks through an analytical tool called “outlier”, which looks for unusual observations that are far removed from the mass of data, the source added.

“Not making any allegation of cartelisation as of now,” Coal Secretary Anil Swarup tweeted on the matter.

The ministry is looking at instances like the Brinda and Sasai blocks, bidding for which opened at Rs.1,802 per tonne and closed at Rs.1,804 per tonne. Similarly, bidding for the Meral mine opened at Rs.725 a tonne and closed at Rs.727 a tonne.

Meanwhile, the Rajya Sabha Select Committee on the Mines and Minerals Amendment Bill on Tuesday also recommended its approval without any change.

However, it wanted the government to consider issues like impact of mining activities on environment, rampant illegal mining, lack of proper and scientific mine closure, land acquisition and resettlement and capturing windfall profits for the welfare of local and tribal communities.

“The committee, in view of limited ambit of amending bill under its consideration, is of the opinion that these issues are of utmost significance that warrant serious consideration by the government.

Changes to the Mines Act, which seek to introduce the system of auction of mines to enhance transparency in mineral allocations was passed in Lok Sabha earlier this month. It seeks to introduce a system of auction in granting prospecting licences, similar to that for coal proposed by the coal mines bill.

The select committees’ reports provoked the Congress party to strongly protest over the measures being rushed without taking on board the concerns of stakeholders.

Protesting Congress members trooped into the well of the house, forcing a 10-minute adjournment, after the reports of the two select committees were presented in the house.

As the reports were tabled in the upper house, Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said: “We want to register our protest against the manner in which mines and coal bills are being rushed for passing.” (IANS)

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