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Sep 05, 2012 at 06:44pm IST

Ministry delaying action on de-allocation of coal blocks

New Delhi: The Coal Ministry may be responsible for the delay in the de-allocation of coal blocks. According to documents accessed by CNN-IBN, the ministry has deliberately delayed the process of de-allocation.

CNN-IBN has accessed letters between the Coal Secretary and the Inter Ministerial Group (IMG) Additional Secretary on the de-allocation of mines.

According to the letters, while the Coal Secretary said that the de-allocation was not possible as the guidelines were not final, the Additional Secretary maintained that the allotment letter itself had provisions for de-allocation and there was no need of any guideline.

The IMG blamed the coal controller for delaying the progress report on mining status. But backing it, the Coal Ministry said that it was busy in furnishing details to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

The de-allocation of coal blocks is now at the centre of the coal allocation controversy following the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report. Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal has said that it will be done by September 15.

However, the question remains if the Coal Ministry acted expeditiously.

The answer perhaps lies in the letters accessed by CNN-IBN. The letters exchanged between Additional Secretary Zohra Chatterjee and the Coal Secretary shows how the Coal Ministry was in no hurry. Showcause notices were issued in January itself, but the Coal Ministry found reasons not to act on it for eight months.

The Additional Secretary, in a letter dated August 23, pointed out that despite the IMG recommending de-allocation of two blocks, the same did not find mention in the agenda circulated at the next meeting.

And that was not all as the Coal Secretary questioned the recommendation for de-allocation by the IMG saying the guidelines had not been finalised.

Responding to it, the Additional Secretary said the clause existed in the allocation letters itself when coal blocks were being given, and that the guidelines were needed just for Bank Guarantee.

Chatterjee also said that that report of the coal controller on the progress made was not being provided to the IMG, though it was critical to find out how much mining had happened.

According to the Coal Ministry, they are overburdened with work relating to the CBI, which is probing the allocations.

The documents also show that it was the PMO that was pushing for the de-allocation as per the minutes of a meeting chaired by the Principal Secretary, PMO, Pulok Chatterjee on August 22.

Referring to the issue, Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal said, "I gave an assurance to the PMO and have kept that assurance."

What the Coal Minister cannot explain is why has his ministry not acted for so long. Even in June 2012, the Coal Secretary admitted that showcause notices had been issued for the de-allocation in 58 blocks and a decision would be taken by the Inter Ministerial Group within a month.

The letters gives a sense that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his office pushed for the de-allocation of coal blocks, well aware of the impending CAG report and the negative publicity.

Had the coal blocks been de-allocated on time, it would have been a face saver for the UPA. The coal ministry, in dragging its feet, may have given a breather to those having the coal blocks, but definitely not to the UPA.