Commercial mining to free coal sector from decades of lockdown: PM Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi while vitually launching the auction process of coal blocks for commercial mining, in New Delhi, on Thursday Photo: PTI
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday launched the country’s first auction for commercial coal mining and sale in the open market.

This is the first major auction by the government this year in midst of a looming slowdown.

Modi said commercial mining would unlock the country’s coal sector from the “lockdown of decades”.

“The country’s coal sector was entangled in a web of captive and non-captive. It was excluded from competition, (and) there was a big problem of transparency. Major scams had taken place in coal action earlier, but the system has been made transparent now,” he said.

Speaking at the event, Union Minister for Coal Prahlad Joshi said state-owned Coal India (CIL) would continue to be the dominant player in the sector.

“We have given CIL a target of 1 billion tonnes by 2023-24, for which they will spend nearly Rs 50,000 crore in the next three to four years on land acquisition, mine development, procuring machinery, and evacuation,” said Joshi.

CIL is the world’s largest coal miner and almost a monopoly supplier of coal in India.

The Central government had earlier this year amended the Coal Mines Special Provisions Act, 2015, to simplify auction and attract an investor interest.

The ministry kicked off the auction with 41 coal blocks, which are estimated to earn the mine-bearing states Rs 20,000 crore annually.

Modi said India should be the world’s largest exporter of coal.

Pitching for the flagship scheme of the Centre to battle Covid-induced slowdown, the PM said “AatmaNirbhar Bharat” translated into saving foreign currency on imports.

“It entails that India develop resources domestically so that the country does not have to rely on imports. It also means becoming the biggest exporter of commodities that we now import,” he said.

Modi also said there would be employment opportunities with investment in the sector. “Eastern and Central India will benefit a lot from this reform. Regions rich in coal and minerals will progress due to these reforms. These are the areas which have aspirational districts. The coal blocks that are getting auctioned today will provide lakhs of jobs in these areas,” he said.

Along with commercial mining, the Centre is also planning to use 100 million tonnes of coal for gasification by 2030. He said four projects were identified for this and about Rs 20,000 crore would be invested for coal gasification projects.

Modi said coal sector reforms would have a positive impact on many other sectors such as power, steel, aluminium, cement, and fertiliser. “Consumption and demand is rapidly approaching the pre-Covid level. In such a situation, there cannot be a better time for a new beginning,” he said in the virtual address.

Vedanta Executive Chairman Anil Agarwal, Tata Group Chairman N Chandrasekaran, and Ficci President Sangeeta Reddy were part of the launch ceremony that connected digitally.

Agarwal said the areas where the mine exploration would commence, prosperity would follow.

“I want to assure Coal India that they should not worry about any job loss. So I urge them to support us (private miners).” He asked the coal ministry to have a public hearing in the case of any dispute and have self-certification for the bidders in order to save time. He also asked the government to look at privatisation of Hindustan Copper.

Agarwal's Sterlite Copper had almost a 40 per cent share in copper production though it has been hit because of controversies surrounding its Thoothukudi plant.

Chandrasekaran asked the ministry to look at the possibility of setting up a coal exchange on the lines of the power and commodities exchange.

“The terms and conditions for the commercial mining are quite liberalised and it will be a successful initiative. The ministry should consider having a coal exchange, a trading platform for transparent buying and selling coal,” he said.

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