PM rules out cancellation of coal blocks

NEW DELHI, Sept 3:
Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh today ruled out immediate cancellation of 142 coal block allocations as demanded by BJP and made it clear that he was ready for a fight with the opposition on the issue.
Singh conveyed his determination about not going for immediate cancellation of the coal block allocations informally to some senior ministers here, sources told reporters.
BJP has demanded cancellation of 142 coal blocks but the Prime Minister is of the view that this could not be done immediately, the sources said.
Singh has made it clear that he was ready to fight it out with the opposition on the issue and was ready to give answer to every question raised by the BJP, they said.
Earlier, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said the coal block allocation issue was being probed on two fronts—one by the CBI and other by an Inter-Ministerial Group—and that cancellation cannot be resorted to before the IMG gives its report by September 15.
Meeting in the midst of a raging controversy, an inter-ministerial panel on coal blocks today skirted a decision on cancelling allotments of 58 mines and instead decided to give the allottees a personal hearing.
Firms including Jindal Steel & Power, Tata Steel, Essar Power, ArcelorMittal, Sterlite Energy and Reliance Power will be asked to present before the IMG on September 6, 7 and 8 to explain the reasons for missing their production deadlines.
“The latest progress (on development of coal blocks) as reported by the Coal Controller will also be taken into account before recommending on the action against the coal block allocatees,” an official statement issued after three and half hour long meeting of the IMG, said.
The IMG has firmed up the guidelines for proportionate deduction of bank guarantees for failure to achieve milestones for development of the blocks.
The panel would present its recommendations on the action to be taken in these 58 coal blocks to the coal secretary by September 10, sources privy to the meeting said, adding the panel did not discuss penal action like cancellation in respect of the 58 blocks under review.
The ministry is likely to announce outcome of the IMG deliberations by September 15.
Apart from the 58 blocks where unsatisfactory work had prompted the Coal Ministry to issue show-cause notices to the allottees, another 32 blocks would be reviewed subsequently.
Of the 58 blocks under review, 30 blocks were allocated to public sector firms and the rest 28 to private companies. The blocks given to private firms are estimated to hold 1,718 million tonnes of extractable coal reserves.
The IMG, headed by Zohra Chatterji, Additional Secretary, Coal, was set up in July to recommend action against the coal block allottees for not meeting time-lines set for beginning production.
The controversy over coal block allocation refuses to die down after the Government auditor CAG estimated undue benefits to the tune of Rs 1.86 lakh crore to private firms on account of allocation of mines without auction.
Meanwhile, with no end to the Government-BJP stand-off over CAG report on coal block allocation, the last week of the Monsoon session of Parliament began today with a repeat of stormy scenes raising the possibility of a washout of the remaining four days.
The month-long session, which already lost the previous two weeks to BJP’s unrelenting demand for resignation of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, again saw uproar created by BJP members, leading to wastage of one more day of both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
However, amid the din, three bills, including Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 2010, were passed in the Lok Sabha within minutes without any debate.
The other two legislations were the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Amendment Bill, 2011, and the National Highways Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 2011.
In the Rajya Sabha, repeated attempts by the Government to ensure passage of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Amendment) Bill, 2012, were thwarted by Left parties which insisted that these should not be cleared without a debate.
As the two Houses met for the day, it was the repeat of scenes witnessed over the last eight days with BJP members raising slogans and rushing into the Well to demand the Prime Minister’s resignation.
Slogans like “Koyle ki dalali hai, Congress sarkar kali hai (brokerage of coal has turned Congress government black)” and “Pradhan Mantri Isteefa Do (Prime Minister should quit)” rent the air leading to clashes as Congress members countered.
Some UPA members were also seen waving the ‘List of Business’ at the agitating BJP members indicating their opposition to the disruption of the proceedings.
AIADMK members in the Rajya Sabha too shouted slogans seeking resignation of the Prime Minister and targetting the government. Their party colleagues in the Lok Sabha were seen in the aisle raising some slogans.
P Lingam (CPI) was seen with a placard opposing the forthcoming visit of Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa to India. In the Rajya Sabha, DMK and the Left displayed placards saying ‘Stop Training the Sri Lankan Army’.
Trouble began in the Lok Sabha soon after Speaker Meira Kumar read out the obituary reference to former member Kanshiram Rana.
Amidst the din, both Houses were adjourned till noon.
When the Rajya Sabha reassembled, similar scenes were witnessed with BJP members again rushing to the well leading to adjournment of the House till 2 pm.
In the Lok Sabha, proceedings could be managed for almost 30 minutes amidst the din with the Speaker pushing the passage of the three legislations. She later adjourned the House for the day after the bills were adopted by voice vote.
But in the Rajya Sabha, plans of the Government to seek passage of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Amendment) Bill 2012 could not succeed because of Left parties’ resistance to clearing the important legislation without any discussion.
This was despite the fact that Deputy Chairman P J Kurien asked BJP members to go to their seats pleading that the bill be passed as it was very important.
However, as members remained unrelenting, he adjourned the House till 2 pm. It was a similar story when the House re-assembled prompting Kurien to adjourn the House for the day.
Earlier, Kurien’s attempts to take up a short notice question on whether companies may lose Rs 6,000 crore every year due to cut in spot sales of coal also could not be taken up.
As Y S Chowdhury (TDP), in whose name the question was listed, did not raise it, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal laid his reply in the din and no supplementary question was asked.
Earlier, Chairman Hamid Ansari’s repeated pleas to restore order went in vain as BJP members remained unrelenting in their slogan-shouting.
SP members were also up on their feet trying to raise certain issues but were inaudible. Ansari then adjourned the House till noon. (PTI)

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