KOLKATA (miningweekly.com) – The Indian government is still trying to determine the cause of a coal shortage in the country, with once section of the Coal Ministry citing excessive rainfall and deteriorating law and order in some regions, while another has blamed the State-run Coal India Limited (CIL) of tardy management.
The government has formed a committee of secretaries (CoS), comprising representatives from related Ministries, to delve into and find solutions to the current shortage of dry fuel, particularly the critical stock levels at almost all thermal power plants.
In a submission before the CoS last month, the Coal Ministry cited excessive rainfall, delays in taking physical possession of forest land for new mine development and law and order situations in some regions as the major causes of tardy growth rate in coal production in recent months.
The Ministry cited the example of Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), the wholly owned operational subsidiary of CIL with mines predominantly in eastern state of Odisha. It maintained that operations of MCL was severely impacted by law and order situations created by contract workers at Talcher, Odisha, where, during the first six months of 2018, as many as 142 first information reports had to be filed with the local police and 26 cases of damage to property. MCL suffered an estimated loss of 3 700 working hours during these six months.
At the same time, excessive monsoon rains in catchment areas impacted on production of CIL subsidiaries, like Bharat Coking Coal and Eastern Coalfields compounding problems faced in increasing production from these mines, the Ministry submitted to CoS.
It said that development of 14 new coal mine projects were delayed owing to problems of getting possession of forest lands from various state governments.
However, Coal Minister Piyush Goyal placed the blame of dry fuel shortage squarely with the management of CIL and its failure to effectively monitor projects and production.
“It appears that officers of CIL are not reviewing issues on a regular basis or taking remedial action. This calls for immediate action by all chief executive officers of CIL subsidiaries, functional directors and general managers of operations,” he said, while directing that all tours and travel plans of all senior managers be cancelled and the entire top management of CIL and subsidiaries to focus of performance parameters.
The tone of the Minister was set by a caution that failure to focus on operations and production would attract strict penal action against officers identified for non-performance.
However, trade unions representing workers in various CIL subsidiaries said that putting the blame on CIL workers and management was a “government ruse” to push ahead with “creeping privatisation” of the State-run mining company pointing to the recent 9% disinvestment of government equity holding in CIL to private investors.
Coal Ministry had set a production target of 282.29-million tons during April to September 2018, but CIL was able to achieve production of 256.47-million tons during the six-month period.