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Commercial Mining a Probability in India

Monday, June 8th, 2009

The Indian government may allow commercial coal mining by private companies as it looks to plug the demand-supply gap in the sector considered crucial to India’s long-term energy security, according to an official in the coal ministry. Currently, state-run firms such as Coal India enjoy absolute monopoly over coal mining and sale in the country. Private companies are allowed to mine only for captive consumption.
The Coal Nationalisation (Amendment) Bill, 2000, introduced in the Rajya Sabha by the NDA government to carry forward long-pending reforms in the sector, may now get a fresh lease of life.
The Budget slated for next month is likely to lay out the government strategy. “President Pratibha Patil has already indicated that the government wants to carry forward reforms in the coal sector. Allowing the private sector in commercial coal mining is the only major reform initiative that remains to be completed. A Bill in this regard is pending and it could be revived after building necessary consensus.The move stands to benefit national and multinational companies such as BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Vale, Monnet Ispat, Gujarat NRE, the Tata Group and Jindals.
The official said the government will try to build political consensus on the matter before approaching Parliament. It will also bring employees’ unions of state-run coal companies on board.
Even earlier, there was a broad consensus in the UPA with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too endorsing the opening of the coal sector to step up production. However, the reforms could not be carried out in the face of stiff opposition from trade unions and Left parties. Getting private firms in coal mining is considered important to give a boost to India’s coal output and reduce dependence on imports by bridging the shortfall between demand and production. Additional coal output will also come in handy for a raft of new coal-based power projects being planned across the country.
India produces over 450 million tonnes of coal annually, almost 50 million tonnes less than what it consumes. In 8-10 years, coal production is slated to touch a billion tonnes but the demand-supply mismatch too will enlarge. Coal India is unlikely to meet the entire future requirement, so the government wants the private sector to step in to increase coal production at a much faster pace.
The government is also likely to carry forward an amendment in Parliament to permit competitive bidding of captive coal blocks. The Cabinet has already cleared this proposal. This amendment is expected to be the first phase of liberalising coal mining in the country. Allowing merchant sale of coal from captive blocks is also on the government’s radar till the sector is fully opened up.

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