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Odisha lifts inertia on coal block development

CAG had issued strictures after allocation irregularities surfaced

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Seven coal block allocates in who were bogged down by the recent stricture of the Comptroller & Auditor General of India (CAG) on irregularities in allocations, can now hope to start work on development of their soon.

A recent order of the state government has cleared the decks on processing of coal blocks without irregularities-a process that had almost grounded to a halt after the alleged scam in coal block allocations.

“We have very recently obtained government order for processing coal blocks where there are no irregularities. The order is applicable to blocks awarded to as well as private firms. We will shortly review the status of all coal blocks allocated in the state”, said a top official of steel & mines department.

The seven coal blocks in question-blocks that are in advanced stages of development, having either been granted prospecting licenses (PL) or mining leases (ML) include Utkal B1 and Ramchandi coal blocks allocated to Jindal Steel & Power Ltd (JSPL), Utkal B2 (Monnet Ispat & Energy), Utkal-C (Indian Metals & Ferro Alloys Ltd-IMFA), Utkal-E (National Aluminium Company-Nalco), Odisha Power Generation Corporation- OPGC (Manoharpur and dip side of Manoharpur) and north of Arkhapal and Srirampur coal block allocated to Strategic Energy Technology Systems Private Limited (SETSPL), a joint venture between a consortium of Tata companies and Sasol of South Africa.

In December last year, the Odisha government got the go-ahead from Ministry of Coal to initiate due action on development of coal blocks till any irregularities surface.

“Till any irregularities are brought out in specific cases, due action can be taken by Odisha government under Mines and Minerals Development & Regulation (MMDR) Act-1957as to the development of coal blocks as well as executing the pending mining leases and other necessary action as per law”, S K Srivastava said in a letter to Odisha chief secretary B K Patnaik.

Regarding issue of processing of ML applications of allocates who were allocated blocks prior to the amendment of Mines and Minerals- Development & Regulation Act- MMDR Act-1957, MoC said similar issue was raised by the Maharashtra government.

The MoC examined the matter in consultation with Union ministry of law and justice (MoLJ). The MoLJ has opined that there does not appear any legal restriction in getting prior approval of the Central government under Section 5 (1) of MMDR Act-1957 to the companies which have already been allocated coal blocks and allocation letters have been issued prior to commencement of amendment to the Act.

“As and when any irregularity is detected, action can be taken against the allocates on a case-to-case basis. However, a general premise cannot be made that all the allocations are irregular nor any action against the allocates is warranted. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is also investigating the alleged irregularities. Action as deemed fit would be initiated wherever warranted and the state government would be kept informed so as to initiate suitable action wherever so required under law”, Srivastava stated in the letter.

The MoC had granted 32 coal blocks in all in Odisha of which only the Talabira block awarded to Hindalco Industries had begun production. Recently, the ministry had de-allocated five blocks in the state- Mandakini-B, Utkal-D, Radhikapur (east), Naini and Baitarani West due to inordinate delay in their development.

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