SC seeks clarification on coal blocks allocation

SC seeks clarification on coal blocks allocation

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked Attorney General (AG) G E Vahanvati to explain how the identification of coal blocks was done for the purpose of allocation to private parties.

A three-judge bench, presided over by Justice R M Lodha, posed a number of searching questions to the top law officer of country, who sought time to answer, prompting the court to adjourn the matter till September 24.

Hearing two public interest litigations filed challenging the coal block allocations, the court asked the government how coal blocks belonging to the Coal India Ltd (CIL) were allocated to private companies.

“Are those coal blocks identified by CMPDIL (Central Mine Planning and Design Institute Limited) a part of the leasehold area of the CIL? Then how can further rights be created for private companies?” asked the bench, also comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Kurian Joseph.

The court also wanted to know if the coal blocks which were allocated were a part of the leasehold area of the Coal India Ltd. If so, the case would acquire a different dimension and raise questions like: What is the process for termination of lease and what is the procedure for sub-lease? If those blocks were leasehold areas of CIL, how it was done?

Vahanvati sought time to respond to the queries, saying that he would file an affidavit.

The bench said that the issue is “most vital” for the case, and that it cannot proceed in the matter without the government's clarification on it.

“The government must have a clear position on this aspect,” said the bench.

The court also asked the AG to supply all booklets of the CMPDIL for identifying coal blocks and how applications from the companies were received by the Centre.

During the hearing, the AG told the court that the government in the 1990s had decided to open up coal mines for captive consumption as there was a huge gap between demand and supply, and the CIL was facing resource crunch.

He pointed out that nobody challenged the policy in 1993.

While noting the submission by the AG, the court said that everybody, including the Centre and state governments as well as the CIL, seemed to be happy with the policy.

“It may not be apt here but the situation seems like Mia-biwi razi, to kya karega kazi,” quipped the bench.