Potential private investors have sought more clarity on the pricing mechanism proposed for the much-anticipated auction for commercial coal mining. In three separate meetings with Union coal ministry officials, some industry personnel also pointed out that the efficiency parameters specified by the government’s discussion paper on the subject are too stringent and the coal ministry must relax the operational timelines proposed in it.
Few private firm representatives demanded that the offered mines should come up with “pre-embedded” clearances to reduce the time required for starting production. The industry pointed out that the paper was silent on infrastructure for coal evacuation and sought the Indian Railways’ inputs on the subject.
After the early January Cabinet decision to remove end-use restrictions on miners in the sector that virtually abolished the concept of captive coal mining, the Union coal ministry had floated a discussion paper which said that the ministry is developing a ‘National Coal Index’ to fix the price of coal for commercial mining, which would include a weighted combination of monthly prices of coal in various channels of transaction. Stakeholders sought more clarity on the pricing mechanism and said that the methodology should be transparent and should be put up in the public domain. Some of them also said that the floor price bench-marked for the auctions — 4% of the revenue share and increment in multiples of 1% — is too high and should be reconsidered.
As reported by FE earlier, the Cabinet decision dismantling the end use curbs could prompt foreign coal companies and also local power and steel companies to take part in the auctions to be held to re-allocate the captive blocks cancelled by the Supreme Court in 2014. So far, only 96 of the 204 blocks cancelled by the apex court have been re-allocated — including 60 assigned to PSUs on a nomination basis and 36 auctioned off — and just 29 of them are operational.
While steel and power firms have interest in coal mining as it gels well with their businesses if unhindered open market sales of surplus coal is allowed, they have been largely shying away from the auctions held so far — even 25% open-market sales allowed in February 2019 was not enough to kindle their interest in these coal blocks.
The Cabinet, via an amendment to the MMDR Act, also extended the policy of composite mining licence, now in force for unexplored blocks of most non-coal minerals, to the coal sector as well, adding to certainty of tenure from the prospecting to the production stages. A section of the industry demanded that the coal ministry must reimburse the exploration costs to the companies for unviable mines.
Other demands include incentives on cleaner mining technology such as coal gasification, liquefaction and coal bed methane and permission to use associated minerals like shale, sandstone and fireclay for ancillary activities. There was also a request for more coal blocks in Odisha. Companies which participated in the stakeholder meetings held in New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata include JSW Energy, Tata Power, Adani Enterprises, CESC, JSPL and Reliance Power.