Ranchi: Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren has accused the Narendra Modi government of being “completely encircled by a coterie of businessmen” as he slammed its decision to auction 22 coal blocks in the state.
“The Modi government has taken this decision in haste without taking the state governments into confidence. This government is completely encircled by a coterie of businessmen,” Soren told reporters in Ranchi. His government moved the Supreme Court Saturday seeking a stay on the auction process for the coal blocks that could fetch the state close to Rs 90,000 crore.
As part of his government’s Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had Thursday launched the auction of 41 coal blocks for commercial mining. At least 22 of these blocks are in Jharkhand.
While Modi described the initiative as an opportunity in the times of disaster, especially as it is also open to foreign investors, Soren said the auction process will not result in the actual value of these mines being realised while also raising questions on the auction itself.
“It is being said that coal block auctions might attract foreign investment. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, there is a global lockdown. Under these circumstances, the actual value of these coal mines will not be realised,” he said. “Before going ahead with the auction, it is mandatory to complete the socio-environmental assessment in the mining area. This has not been ensured at the moment.”
According to changed rules, which the Modi government tweaked in January this year, it is the state governments that have to grant environmental clearances to projects exploring hydrocarbons such as oil, natural gas and coal.
The Jharkhand government insists that it has not granted its clearance to the 22 coal blocks. The chief minister tweeted Sunday that the Modi government’s decision was a “blatant disregard of co-operative federalism”.
Decision by @CoalMinistry + @PMOIndia to go ahead with #CommercialMining & #CoalBlock auctions w'out acknowledging our concerns around the potential socio-economic + enviromental costs & the impact on our forests & tribal population is blatant disregard of
Co-operative Federalism https://t.co/RboFCiPEwC pic.twitter.com/XLXNR2V3Sj
— Hemant Soren (घर में रहें – सुरक्षित रहें) (@HemantSorenJMM) June 20, 2020
State can gain up to Rs 90,000 crore
The 22 Jharkhand blocks listed for auction include Ashok Karekata, Bundu, Chakla, Chitarpur, Gondulpada, North Dhadu, Sereghada, Mahuamilan (North Karnpura), Brahmadiha (Giridih), Budhakhap, Rauta (Ramgarh), Choritand Tilaiya, Jogeshwar, Khas Jogeshwar, Lalgarh North (West Bokaro), Jayanagar Patratu, Tokisud-2 (South Karnapura), Oranga (Latehar), Mahuagarhi, Urmapahari (Rajmahal), Rajhara (Daltenganj) and Sheetnala (Jharia).
According to state government documents with ThePrint, Jharkhand can earn a revenue of around Rs 90,000 crore from auction as the 22 blocks are estimated to have coal worth 3,860 million tonnes.
The mining companies pay royalty to the state government at a rate of Rs 200-300 per tonne. In addition, the firms also deposit 26 per cent of their profits with the District Mineral Fund. Mining activities in these mines can be sustained for about 30 years.
But the chief minister had earlier told ThePrint that the coal companies owed the Jharkhand government in excess of Rs 50,000 crore. On the other hand, the state government has an unspent corpus of Rs 5,000 crore in the District Mineral Fund.
Blocks raise environmental concerns
The auction of the blocks is already raising environmental concerns.
According to a report, mining will decimate 55 per cent of the forest area near Jharkhand’s Chakla mine, 50 per cent of forest cover in Choritand Tilaiya and 44 per cent of forest area in Sereghada.
Former Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh has also written to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar that the proposed mining blocks are located in dense forest areas and go against the “go”/“no go” classification for such activity.
Auction of coal blocks in very rich biodiversity areas going against “go” / “no go” classification is a triple disaster, and must be cancelled immediately.
Influence of politically powerful power producers is evident.
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) June 19, 2020
Ramesh was referring to a 2009-10 report by a high-level committee that 70 per cent of mining should remain in “go” areas and only 30 per cent should be in “no go” areas, which are dense forests with rich bio-diversity.
Soren had told ThePrint in April that he was categorically against all mining activity as they were causing great harm to the environment.
His critics, however, said the chief minister himself has not been serious about the environment.
“The Hemant Soren government is not at all serious on this issue at the moment. No one has been serious about the environment, including all the previous governments,” said Jharkhand-based environmentalist Nitish Priyadarshi. “There has already been deforestation in these proposed mining blocks and no afforestation has been done as of date. There is also no plan to replant these trees.”
Jharkhand Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Shashi Nand Kuliyar, however, said it is the central government that declares the “go” and “no go” areas in these mining blocks. “For these 22 mines that are to be auctioned, we have no information on which are the ‘go’ and ‘no go’ areas,” he said.
The state government has also been filing cases against trade union leaders opposing foreign investment in coal block auctions. On Saturday, an FIR was lodged in Dhanbad against 50 people, including former minister Bachha Singh, under the Disaster Management Act for not adhering to social distancing norms while protesting.