Odisha government on Tuesday admitted that it recommended 42 companies to the central government for coal block allocations, a majority of them private companies, contrary to the chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s earlier claim that his government had all along asked for competitive bidding for allocation of coal.
Amidst noisy scenes in the Odisha assembly, minister of state for steel and mines Rajanikant Singh said that from 2001-2002 to 2011-2012, the steel and mines, energy and industries departments together recommended coal block allocations for a total of 42 steel, power, aluminium and cement plants.
Singh however maintained Patnaik’s assertion that coal was a subject on which the central government had complete authority. “The recommendations of the state government were only meant for proper ultilisation of natural resources, development of industries, encouragement local employment and overall economic development of the state,” Singh said.
The controversy over coal block allocations has taken the country by storm after the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) was tabled in Parliament on August 17. The report said there has been an estimated loss of Rs. 1.86 lakh crore to the government from allocation of 57 coal blocks to companies without competitive bidding.
The Odisha government has been sucked into the controversy over coal block allotment issue after Patnaik reacted to Union coal minister Sriprakash Jaiswal’s comment that five coal rich states, including Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Rajasthan, opposed competitive bidding for coal block allocation.
On August 23, Patnaik said that the Odisha government had been asking for an auction based system allocation for mineral resources including coal for the last few years.
However, documents revealed that the Odisha government indeed opposed the competitive bidding, with Patnaik himself writing a letter of recommendation to Union ministry of coal for coal block allocation for a private company.