The CAG report on the coal block allocations scam was finally tabled in Parliament on August 17th. Though the staggering figure of Rs 1.86 lakh crores mentioned in the final report, is less than a sixth of the original figure of Rs 10.67 lakh crores in the earlier leaked draft, it's still a mind-boggling figure and dwarfs the previous biggest scam - the 2G spectrum allocation. And who were the sole beneficiaries of this Rs 1.86 lakh crore handout? Private companies.
The government is scrambling to defend itself and this time the Prime Minister and his office are directly implicated for inaction and wanton delay in implementing the auction. It will be an uphill task to explain the corruption involved in this and the brazen collusion between the government and private players at the cost of the country, its resources, and yes, us, the tax payers.
Every aspect of the allocation process has been rife with corruption. The government, instead of acting as custodian of this national resource, has gone out of its way to ensure profit for private enterprises - exactly as in the 2G case.
The government not only gave away coal blocks practically for free, they even gave them to companies who had never engaged in mining or the power sector or ran a coal-consuming industry. They allocated blocks with coal reserves that far exceed the lifetime requirements of these companies. They gave blocks to companies that have since sat on them, waiting for the price of coal to shoot up so they can sell it at a profit in the future. They gave free coal blocks to companies that have since been sold off at a profit. The list of violations goes on.
How was this made possible?
To start with, the allocation process was flawed. Allocations were made on the basis of recommendations by Screening Committees, in the absence of any criteria. The process lacked transparency; it was arbitrary and gave space for corruption. It was contested internally within the coal ministry. A fairer auction policy was suggested. The government delayed taking a decision on the policy for over six years, while they continued to give away 142 blocks during that period.
Meanwhile, the government has continuously misled the country by pointing to "delayed" environmental clearances of coal mines as being the primary reason for the coal shortage and power crisis in the country. The now emerging stories of corruption demonstrate that the problem lies elsewhere, even as the environment bogey is used to push favoured projects, such as Essar/Hindalco's Mahan project.
It is clear that the demands from private players and the coal and power ministries to open up the last remaining forests in Central India for coal mining is nothing but an extension of this scam, with tigers and forest dependent peoples' concerns being of absolutely no concern. Other beneficiaries of the scam who have been pushing hard for clearances at any cost include Essar, Adani, Jindal, Reliance and Tata. A Ministry of Environment and Forests press statement earlier this month have stated that clearances given by MoEF far exceed targets, and even capacity projected for the future and that figures and statistics which bear out this statement are available for every sector.
All the big companies are named in the CAG report – Essar, Hindalco, Jindal, Tata, Reliance are amongst the companies listed in the report. These are the same companies lobbying with the Prime Minister to set aside existing environmental processes and legislation to help them carry out the mining in cheapest possible way. If the coal blocks could be allocated at no cost, well surely the Prime Minister can bend the environmental rules in their favour.
These companies have, in addition to displaying gross disregard for environmental concerns, been violating the rights of people – both forest dwellers and those dependant on the forests for their livelihoods. The Forests Rights Act, which ensures that the rights of individuals and communities on forests is recognised, has been shabbily implemented, on the rare occasions that it has been implemented at all. Every dirty trick in the book has been used to entice, dissuade, threaten, dishearten and bully communities to give up their land for coal mining.
All of this establishes that the government's commitment to ensuring private profit is paramount; even the government's own stated objective of increasing coal based power generation was not achieved. To explain its failure in this, it has been misdirecting attention to delayed clearances in a concerted manner. But the lie has been called.