Unlikely beneficiaries of coal block allocations are some media firms that, in their quest to diversify business operations, got blocks allocated in the names of their subsidiaries or group firms. These media firms include Dainik Bhaskar group, Lokmat group and Prabhat Khabar.
While Dainik Bhaskar obtained a coal block for its subsidiary power firm DB Power Ltd in Chhattisgarh, Marathi news daily Lokmat had one allocated in Chhattisgarh in the name of JLD Yavatmal Energy. Jharkhand-based news daily Prabhat Khabar got a block in the name of Usha Martin Ltd in the state.
“A company’s net worth increases manifold if it has a pie in the country’s natural assets. And, if this asset is coal, which is directly linked to power production, it adds weight to a company’s net worth,” a senior government official told HT.
Two factors have contributed to these media firms’ ability to get coal bocks allocated. One, the rapid consumption of mass media made them flush with surplus capital. Second, the ever-increasing demand for electricity in India has prompted many firms, which included these media companies as well, to look at diversification into power production.
As thermal power still accounts for around 70% of electricity production in India, it was only natural for any firm keen to have power generation capacity to get into thermal power production. “All these media firms had enough funds for investment, which they utilised in getting coal blocks allocated for their subsidiary or front companies,” the official added. He further explained that it made “business sense” for a firm to first have coal blocks allocated under its ambit and then expand into thermal power production.
Incidentally, developing coal bocks is a complex issue that requires specialised skills. The media firms that got coal bocks clearly lacked them and had been squatting on those over the past five years amid allegations from the national auditor — CAG — that the government had arbitrarily allocated coal blocks, sacrificing precious revenue.