The government allegedly skirted the screening process to allot two coal blocks to Jindal Steel and Power Ltd and Strategic Energy Technology Systems Ltd, a joint venture between a consortium of Tata companies and South Africa-based Sasol Synfuels International, in February 2009 for coal-to-liquid projects.
The allocations have grown into a major controversy, as BJP MP Hansraj Ahir wrote to PM Manmohan Singh on Monday, alleging that these allocations were made through an inter-ministerial group (IMG), and not the screening committee.Public sector undertakings SAlL, GAIL, IRCON and IOC also applied but were refused.
While the CAG raised questions on the screening committee’s role in allocations — alleging lack of transparency — the charge that even this process was done away with is likely to hit an already embattled government.
Ahir wrote: “I have received a letter from the office of the minister of state for coal informing that no meeting of the screening committee has been held after July 3, 2008 and the coal blocks were allotted without the meeting of the screening committee.”
But both the companies said the allocations were made on the basis of presentations made to the IMG set up by the coal ministry. A Strategic Energy spokesperson wrote to HT: “We received the prospecting licence as recently as March 15 and we still await the prospecting licence deed, which will allow us… actual exploration.”
The company said if they found inadequate reserves of quality coal, they would return the block to the government.
The IMG recommended Tata and JSPL in October 2008. “It took the government a long time of five months to finally issue letters on 27th February 2009,” said a mailed statement from Jindal Steel and Power. And on February 2, it said, Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik had written to the PM recommending its name.
Ahir told HT that the blocks, containing 1,500 million tonne — several times the average quantity of reserves in the other coal blocks — were also applied for by four public sector undertakings, SAIL, GAIL, IRCON and IOC. But the government rejected their proposals.