After being under attack for more than one year, Coal Minister Sri Prakash Jaiswal does not give an impression of a man under the weather. In an interview with Sudheer Pal Singh and Jyoti Mukul, the minister flaunts the improved performance of the coal sector and says that the proposed coal regulator cannot be vested with complete powers that his ministry exercises right now. Edited Excerpts:
It has been a difficult year for the coal ministry and Coal India due allegations of corruption and coal shortage. Do you think the coal sector looks better now?
The challenges faced by the coal sector are unparalleled in the last few years. At one point, hydropower capacity was coming up but that is not coming up now. The coal ministry and Coal India were under target from all sides. Whatever happened in UPA-I is being inquired but going forward coal production will increase so that we are able to meet power sector requirement and our growth improves which is what the prime minister wants and we should be able to achieve it.
We managed to improve production through concerted efforts. We emphasized on the selection of effective officers. This is not just about chairman and managing director of Coal India but also directors and chief general managers. The parameter has always been performance.
After that there was close monitoring of production. Production, offtake and overburden removal has increased. We cannot turn Coal India into a private company. The difference between a private and a government company will always remain. But in adverse circumstances, whatever we could do maximum to improve the functioning of Coal India we did.
But currently, Coal India enjoys a monopoly position.
If it was in a monopolistic situation, then it would have been selling at twice or thrice the international rate in the domestic market. In the last four years, coal price was increased by only 10%. Coal India price was higher than global price at one point because international prices fell.
Are you taking up Coal India’s case for clearing of its dues?
We have asked companies to clear the dues but at the same time we have tried to address the concerns of CIL customers. Complaints relate to the gross calorific value. There must be some substance to the complaints. Quality of coal also depends on geo-mining conditions. Whatever quality of coal is available would be supplied but if there is some tampering in the quality then we will be address it.
Do you think that coal capacities were put up blindly without assessing availability of coal?
When captive coal blocks were given out the understanding was that mining will improve. If you say that coal blocks were given to wrong people, it is not correct. Fifty% blocks were such where forest and environment clearances were not coming and 20% where land acquisition did not happen. There were some coal blocks where there was wrong information given out by companies. It was the responsibility of officers to ensure that company and plant details were correct. Those people must have done something wrong. They must have been some wrongdoing otherwise how so many complaints would not have come and CBI would not have filed 11 FIRs. But this can happen in any sector. Even in road and infrastructure construction, we find sometimes the work is not up to the mark. The vested interest of officers comes in the way. But people who blame the Prime Minister are just playing politics. If this prime minister is being blamed then all primes ministers since independence should be blamed.
The Supreme Court has reprimanded an officer in your ministry for interfering with the CBI status report. Were you aware of such interference?
When CBI inquiry started last year, the ministry’s chief vigilance officer was responsible for providing information. He must have visited CBI a number of times. It is not my job to know about that but if there is something that happened out of the way, then the Supreme Court is looking into it and we will abide by that. Beyond this, I would not like to comment.
How far do you think coal production will improve? Would you attribute this to the setting of Cabinet Committee on Investment?
The constraints which were there six months back have reduced whether it is clearances or land acquisition. We are going to exceed target. It will be our effort to achieve more than the target. Not just CCI but the prime minister has been giving us directions and has been telling us that coal is the biggest challenge. The policy framed since 1993 has been carried forward.
Would you take up the case of captive mines given to private companies with CCI?
If crores of banks were stuck in projects, whether public private, we need to speed up clearances for them.
You have in the past said that the work on setting up of a coal regulator would be speeded up but that has not happened. Why the delay?
I wanted the coal regulatory authority to be in place. The ambit of coal companies is huge and the extent of Coal India’s responsibility and complaints that come in with regard to quality, quantity and FSAs is large. If there is a regulator for it, then it will be good. Within 10-15 days, the group of ministers will finalise its recommendations. One more meeting may be needed.
Why isn’t the government giving complete pricing power to the regulator?
Do you want that the coal ministry should be dissolved? Whatever powers are required to be given to regulator with regard to pricing, quality and supply those powers will be given to the coal regulatory authority but if you think that everything will be done by the regulator then it will not happen. There will be checks and balances. There can be corruption even within regulatory authority. They may increase and decrease price and indulge in arbitrary decisions. In a democracy, you cannot shut down the coal ministry. This will be an insult to people.
The government had said coal blocks would be bid out by December 2012 but that has not happened? Why the delay?
The delay is because we want a 100% transparent system. How is bidding done and how rules are framed. Crisil has submitted a report. We want to conduct everything systematically so that in future no one points out mistakes. We will be able to come out with bidding norms in one or two months.