Environmental activists protest the auction of the Bander coal block that is situated in the vicinity of the Tadoba tiger reserve | Photo: Indiareal.in

Confusion, uncertainty mark coal block auction process following launch

Almost a fortnight after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an auction of 41 coal mines for commercial mining, it has become glaringly apparent that the central and state governments where these coal mines are located are not on the same page regarding the move.

Jharkhand, which is home to 22 of the coal mines, has already moved the Supreme Court over the auction, alleging the Modi government has ‘taken the decision in haste, without taking state governments into confidence’. The Hemant Soren-led Jharkhand government has sought a stay on the auction. Soren claimed his government has not granted the mandatory environmental clearance to the 22 coal blocks. The chief minister even tweeted his concern saying ‘Decision by the coal ministry and PMO India to go ahead with commercial mining & coal block auctions without acknowledging our concerns around the potential socio-economic and environmental costs and the impact on our forests and tribal population is blatant disregard of co-operative federalism.”

The latest state to strike against the coal auction is Maharashtra. After strong criticism from the state’s environment minister Aaditya Thackeray and forest minister Sanjay Rathod, the Union coal ministry has decided to scrap Bander coal blocks, near the buffer and eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) of Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR), from the auction list. Even Chhattisgarh has managed to get four blocks — Sayang, Madanpur (North), Morga (South) and Morga-II — in the Hasdeo Aranya area off the auction list as this region has been declared a Lemru elephant reserve.

While downplaying the opposition to the auction, however, coal and mines minister Pralhad Joshi said the Centre was open to tweaking the auction on the request of state governments. He said while Chhattisgarh has raised environmental concerns over four blocks, they can be replaced by other mines in the state, if the chief minister insists. Regarding Jharkhand’s opposition, Joshi said the state was concerned the timing of the auction (amidst a pandemic) could dampen investor confidence.

Joshi claimed that 26 firms have already bought the tender documents and 10 companies have expressed an interest in visiting the proposed sites.

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