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Coal Bill cleared through voice vote in Lok Sabha

| | Updated on: Dec 12, 2014
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Opposition parties unhappy; wanted Bill referred to Standing Committee

The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014, meant to bring transparency in coal-block allocations, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Friday, despite demands from some Opposition parties to refer it to a Parliamentary Standing Committee.

Soon after the Bill was passed in the lower house, the Coal Ministry notified the rules for auction and allocation of coal blocks.

Allaying the concerns of the Opposition, Piyush Goyal, Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal, and New and Renewable Energy, said that the legislation is not paving the way for privatisation of the coal sector. “We are in fact strengthening the public-sector undertaking Coal India Ltd,” he said.

On the concerns about workers’ welfare, Goyal said there were laws in place to protect their interest.

The Bill seeks to replace the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance.

It was introduced with some new provisions and changes on December 10 in the Lok Sabha. One of the significant additions to the original Ordinance was the provision to protect Government officials from future litigation.

New section A new section inserted in the Bill states that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding can be initiated against Government officials acting in ‘good faith’.

The other change from the ordinance includes a watertight definition for Government companies seeking allocation of coal blocks.

The new definition says that a private sector entity cannot own more than 26 per cent stake in public-private joint ventures in the case of coal-block allocations.

However, if there is more than one private entity in the venture then the entire private sector stake must not exceed 49 per cent.

‘Unresolved’ issues During the discussions, the Opposition parties flayed the Narendra Modi Government for ‘unresolved’ issues, such as land acquisition and workers’ welfare in the Coal Bill while admitting the need for reforms in the sector to boost production.

The need for legislation arose after the Supreme Court cancelled the allocation of 204 coal blocks.

Initiating the debate, Congress member Jyotiraditya Scindia said while land and environmental issues remained unresolved, there was also no clarity on how many blocks and which ones would be put up for auction.

Scindia also questioned the need for changes in the Coal Nationalisation Act and the Mines and Minerals Act, which he said were not required to proceed with the re-allocation of coal blocks. “The proposed amendments are not required to auction the 74 coal blocks ... This Bill must be sent to the Standing Committee,” he said.

Trinamool Congress member Kalyan Banerjee, who headed the earlier Standing Committee on Coal, said the Government seemed more interested in FDI, adding that no industry chamber in the mine-producing States was consulted for such an important legislation.

Demanding that the Bill be sent to the Standing Committee, he said coal mines were “properties of the States. You (Centre) are not making any charity but making money by extracting from the State governments and trying to show that you are benevolent.”

Biju Janata Dal’s Tathagata Satpathy and CPI(M) member Jitendra Chowdhury also wanted the Bill to be sent to the Standing Committee and opposed any move to de-nationalise the coal sector.

Terming the Bill as a ‘band-aid’ rather than a long-term solution, Satapathy said natural resources belong to the nation and the Government should not leave any ambiguity in defining end-use.

Published on December 12, 2014

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