New Delhi: Union Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal on Monday said that the government will not hesitate in taking action against any minister even if he or she is from the Congress in the alleged coal scam case.
Jaiswal said that reviewing coal blocks is not an ordinary work as it takes one full year to review one coal block. The government has set September 15 as the deadline for a decision on de-allocation of coal blocks where work has not started. The minister assured that on September 16 the process of de-allocation will start.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Joining me now is the country's Coal Minister, the man who is literally facing the heat over the coal allocations.
Thank you for joining us Sriprakash Jaiswal. Why are you against the cancellation of coal blocks when it was your own Ministry which had issued showcause notices to 58 blocks between April-May 2012? And why is it so that even after issuing showcause notices, you did not act in a single case or cancelled the license of a single company?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: In contrast to what you are saying, I would like to tell you that 26 blocks were de-allocated in 2010.
Rajdeep Sardesai: No. I am saying that the showcause notices that were issued this year, you have not acted in a single case.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Between 2004-2009, all coal blocks were reviewed. After the review, 58 blocks were served showcause notices and the inter-ministerial group was formed. During the budget the former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had announced the formation of the IMG, which was given the task of reviewing all coal blocks. Those 58 coal blocks which were served showcause notice are being reviewed now. Guidelines have been laid and I have set September 15 as the deadline for the completion of the review process. Action will be taken those which will be found at fault, either their bank guarantee will be confisticated or their coal blocks will be de-allocated or they will be just warned.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So, are you saying that you will start de-allocating blocks after September 15 or are you just buying this time because of the deadlock in Parliament?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: We will de-allocate blocks after September 15. You can say anything but the government follows a procedure. The coal blocks which were allocated need to be reviewed to figure out the problem. De-allocation cannot be done without following a specific procedure because the companies can move High Courts and Supreme Court to get a stay on the decision.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The IMG had last month recommended the cancellation of blocks of Jindal Jitpur plant and Usha Martin plant but the Coal Secretary objected to it. Is this opposition because the coal mines are owned by Naveen Jindal who is Congress MP? Are you under any kind of pressure on not cancelling these blocks?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Whoever it might be, a Congress MP or any other big shot in the Congress, if he or she is found at fault, action will be taken.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The 142 allotments that you made between 2004 and 2009, there are more than 70 blocks where mining hasn't started. Why haven't you taken any action against them? There are many who have sold off their blocks to others or are just gaining from the increase in the valuation of their companies without starting mining work.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: You seem to be unaware of the mining process. It takes almost five to seven year to start mining work and production. In five years many things have changed. The forestry and environment clearance process, the land acquisition problem, the law and order problem in states with coal mines, everything has changed a lot.
Rajdeep Sardesai: It can be true that some coal blocks have not got clearances and have therefore not started mining but this is also true that some companies are sitting on their blocks and gaining from the increasing valuation of their companies. Why haven't you acted against them?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: This is what we are reviewing. It takes one full year to review one single block. It is no ordinary work.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I am not saying it is an ordinary work but would you have started this review process if the issue was not raised in Parliament or by the CAG report.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: The IMG was formed much before the issue came up in Parliament. I am assuring you that the companies who will be found sitting on their allocated coal blocks, their blocks will be de-allocated and strict action will be taken against them.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Another UPA minister Subodh Kant Sahay had pushed for allocation of coal block for his brother. Is this not conflict of interest? Till date, you have been defending Subodh Kant Sahay.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: I have no information about it.
Rajdeep Sardesai: We have a letter written by Subodh Kant Sahay.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: We have no information about it. Recommendations don't affect government's decisions.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But the very next day, block was allocated to Subodh Kant Sahay's brother. And all this happened between 2004-2009. It is 2012 now and you say the review process is still on.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: As far as we know, Sahay had not made the recommendation for that block. If you are saying we are delaying the process then I want to tell you that the deadline for all reviews will end on September 15.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So, are you telling me that after September 16, de-allocation process will start?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Not only will the coal blocks be de-allocated but as the CBI inquiry is on, stricter actions will be taken against those found at fault.
Rajdeep Sardesai: This means that during 2004-2009, coal blocks were allocated to wrong people?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: I can tell you that the policy and the mechanism which was followed for the allocation is 100 per cent correct.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But people have misused this mechanism. What was the point of having a screening committee if wrong people got the blocks?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: If people have wrongly filed their papers, what can the screening committee do.
Rajdeep Sardesai: But so many papers have been wrongly filed? Do you accept that mistakes were committed in the block allocation process?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: No. There is no mistake in the policy or in its implementation. If there is a possibility of a mistake, it could have been in the information collecting process or in communication.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So that means if Subodh Kant Sahay doesn't tell the Prime Minister that the person is making a recommendation for his brother, how will the Prime Minister get to know?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Don't link two different things with each other.
Rajdeep Sardesai: The Opposition is demanding that all 142 blocks should be de-allocated and auctioned. Are you ready for this?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Coal blocks will not de-allocated till the IMG report or the CBI inquiry report is out. As far as auction is considered, in 2010 a law has been passed and since 2009 no block has been allocated. So, now no block can be allocated without its auction.
Rajdeep Sardesai: I will again ask you sir that are you assuring us that on September 16 the de-allocation process will start and you will act against those found to be at fault?
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Definitely. Both you and me will see what strict action will be taken against those found at fault.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Sir, we have also heard that you have been told by the PMO to speed up the process but your Ministry is still dragging its feet on the issue.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: No, we aren't delaying the work.
Rajdeep Sardesai: So, from September 16 the de-allocation process will start.
Sriprakash Jaiswal: Yes, the list will be out on September 16.
Rajdeep Sardesai: Thank you for talking to us Sriprakash Jaiswal.