Chief Minister and BJD supremo Naveen Patnaik is again in the thick of a controversy over Coalgate for recommending the names of private parties for allocation of coal blocks. On the defensive after the CAG indicted the Centre over the issue, the state Congress has seized the opportunity by demanding the resignation of Naveen and a CBI probe into the coal block allocation recommendations by the state government.
The Coalgate continued to generate heat in ongoing monsoon session of the state Assembly. While referring to the statement of the chief minister that the CAG has indicted the Centre and not named states in its report, Congress chief whip Prasad Harichandan said that the report mentioned several companies operating in Odisha.
“Will the chief minister resign on his own and set an example for others over the coal issue? We do not demand his resignation. But the chief minister should resign before the BJD demands resignation of Prime Minister,” Harichandan said. Justifying Congress demand for the resignation of the chief minister, Harichandan said though the Centre attempted to introduce bidding process for coal block allocation in 2005, it was strongly opposed by the state government.
What has put the BJD in an embarrassing situation is the fact that Naveen had written four letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh between 2005 and 2009 recommending different private parties for allocation of coal blocks in the state. However, the chief minister is now claiming that the state government has been asking for auction-based system for allocation of mineral resources including coal.
“The chief minister is telling untruths. Neither he nor his government has ever suggested bidding route for coal block allocation. Therefore, we suggest him to tender resignation and set an example for others,” Harichandan aaded.
The state government has, however, justified recommending the names of some private companies for allotment of coal blocks for attracting investment. Minister of State for Steel and Mines Rajanikanta Singh said that the state government has signed MOUs with 29 independent power projects (IPPs) and 50 steel projects which entails an investment of `3 lakh crore. There is a need to reserve 10,000 million tonnes of coal to meet the demands of these industries.
“The Centre has not taken the coal requirement of the state industries into consideration while allocating coal blocks to outside agencies,” Singh said.
The Centre has allocated coal blocks having reserve of 4956.82 million tonnes to 13 public sector companies of other states, when annual requirement of non-coking coals of the states industries has been estimated at 250 million tonnes per annum, he said. Singh further said that the Centre had allocated coal blocks to certain companies though they were not recommended by the state government.
In some cases, the Centre allocated coal blocks to some companies even before the state made recommendation for them. The Centre had not consulted the state while allotting coal blocks to private companies or PSUs of other states. “Therefore, the state’s recommendations were never binding on Centre for allocation of coal blocks,” Singh said.
Harichandan, however, alleged that the state government had also written to the BJD MPs to lobby for getting coal blocks alloted in the state for private parties. “The minister in his statement in the house has not given any information whether the companies who have been alloted coal blocks have started operation. Have they extracted coal and utilised for captive use or sold it,” he asked.
Claiming that Odisha was the first to demand auction based system for allocation of coal blocks, the Minister said that the Centre had been adopting dilly dallying process instead of going through the bidding routes. Besides, the Prime Minister’s Office on September 11, 2004 initiated a note which had pointed out certain disadvantages of bidding process, he said.
The state government has admitted to have made recommendations for allocation of coal blocks to 42 private companies. While the Steel and Mines department had made 14 recommendations for coal block allocation in favour of private companies and one state PSU during 2001-02 to 2011-2012, Industries department recommended names of two companies for coal blocks in 2007, the rest were recommended by Energy Department.