Instead of getting enhanced power supply, what appears is the ‘power’ struggles that goes on in ministries which act as stumbling blocks in giving clearances for work to progress!
It may be recalled that between 2004 and 2009 some 64 coal blocks were allotted to private parties. A public outcry for not following standard procedures resulted in CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) investigations, called a “preliminary probe” and this shows that None of the allottees have really started any work at site—which means we have made no material progress in eight years! What is surprising, however, is that many of the allottees are major blue chip companies!
Now this perhaps needs another set of ‘study’ as to what prompted the allotment and what has prevented any work from being done and, in the national interest why not the government take punitive measures against the allottees for not ‘delivering’ the goods? Does this all look like the dog in the manger policy of the privileged few?
For a moment, let us turn our attention to CBM (coal bed methane), which is currently produced in the USA, Canada and Australia. China, Indonesia and India are the new entrants in the field, with India’s Great Eastern Energy Corporation (GECL) being the first to explore for CBM. Now what is their problem, if any?
CBM can be extracted from virgin coal mines. Though the Product Sharing Contract (PSC) was signed in September 2010 by GEECL, which permits them to conduct pilot assessment surveys for three years, no work has actually be done so far in the last one and half years. Why? The ministry of environment & forests (MoEF) has not yet given the necessary clearance. Are they hard-pressed, over-worked and understaffed? Perhaps.
Work on CBM in India is still in its infancy due to above reasons.
Yogendra Kumar Modi, chairman of GEECL, laments that instead of permitting this loss of precious lead time, the MOEF should have given them interim permission to drill a few holes, take out samples and carry out lab tests to assess the gas potential.
Looks like MOEF wants to put the cart before the horse? After all if gas is found in viable quantity and quality, the necessary environmental requirements can be complied. Thus, the work at Mannargudi in Tamil Nadu has not even started, as a result.
Now, let us take a look at the progress made, if any, at CMM, which is coal mine methane, found on the surface of the mines and may be extracted along with coal. This process is relatively less expensive than CBM.
Fortunately, the tug-of-war between coal and petroleum ministries is now over, with the latter permitting Coal India to extract CMM but it will decide later on the price, commercialization and allocation pattern for the same. CMM can be gainfully utilised by captive power units installed at head of pit mines. However, for reasons unknown CIL have not received permission to extract CMM from the five blocks in lease-held properties, and it is hoped that this matter will be reviewed in due course.
We know that imported coal is expensive but indigenous coal producers have various problems to overcome. Coal India alone has some 102 proposals pending with the MOEF awaiting various types of clearances with 25 of them in the final stage. It is now apparent that this ministry has such a large backlog, perhaps to shortage of qualified manpower and related constraints.
To overcome process delays, the Charturvedi Committee had earlier proposed that miners be allowed to bore holes with a 15-20 per sq km density rather than the current stipulation of 1.5 to 2. This proposal is under review so that some relaxations may be granted.
Meanwhile, Coal India has offered some 70 million tonnes of pit head stocks over and above the FSA commitments; Sterlite Industries, Adani Power and China Light & Power have shown keen interest in this offer.
Coal India is also planning to associate with the Indian Railways in expeditious movement of coal from pit heads. It is time that Railways themselves come forward with a workable solution to lay dedicated coal transport lines from pit heads to power generating points. They need to consider the possibility of re-scheduling the rail-track usage timings so that cargo can be on the move, even if with some interruptions at night and we can overcome the power shortages.
The ball, now, is in the railway ministry’s court.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com.)