New Coal Bill extends blanket protection to govt officials

| | Updated on: Dec 10, 2014
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Govt bodies too get cover; TMC, Left object to legislation that replaces the Ordinance

The Centre is taking steps to protect government officials involved in allotting coal blocks from prosecutions and legal proceedings.

The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, introduced in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday to replace an Ordinance, states: “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the Central Government, nominated authority, commissioner of payment or designated custodian or any person acting on their behalf in respect of anything which is done or intended to be done in good faith under this Act.” While introducing the Bill, the Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Power, Coal and New and Renewable Energy, Piyush Goyal, assured Lok Sabha that the Government does not seek to de-nationalise coal mines.

Stake in Joint ventures

The Bill stipulates that a private sector entity cannot own more than 26 per cent in public-private joint ventures in case of coal block allocations.

However, if there is more than one private sector entity in a venture, then their total stake should not exceed 49 per cent. The Bill also prohibits government companies from alienating or transferring any interest in such joint ventures by taking loans or advances from banks or financial institutions.

The need for such a law arose after the Supreme Court on September 24 de-allocated 204 blocks given between 1993 and 2010.

The Bill gives a clear roadmap for the Centre to auction/allocate coal blocks. The Centre proposes to empower a Tribunal to resolve disputes between a successful bidder and prior allottee.

The Bill’s introduction saw opposition from Trinamool Congress MP Saugata Roy, who said it “would open the door for de-nationalisation of coal mines” and the giving away of the energy sector to private players.

Supported by the Left parties, Roy said the legislation nullified the Coal Mines Nationalisation Act of 1973 and allowed “total exploitation” of mines and the people.

Amid protests, Goyal said it was necessary for the Centre to come up with a solution, which is why an Ordinance was brought in to avert a crisis in power generation due to the lack of coal.

Published on December 10, 2014

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