India plans to amend Coal Bearing Act, 1957 to allow land acquisition for private mining

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Rio Tinto's coal operations in Australia. Copyright © 2014 Rio Tinto (Picture for illustration purposes only)

The government is planning to amend the Coal Bearing Act (CBA), 1957 to allow land acquisition for commercial coal mining by private sector players. “The proposal is currently in the consultation stage in the ministry, but if the Parliament approves it, such land can be acquired under CBA and leased out to the private sector,” said M Nagaraju, joint secretary and nominated authority, ministry of coal during a webinar for the stakeholders of commercial coal mining auctions organized by FICCI.

The CBA currently allows special relaxations for land acquisition only to state-owned companies such as Coal India and its subsidiaries. “I do appreciate that to get a coal mine operational, allocatees have to get permission from various agencies, which is time consuming,” said Anil Kumar Jain, secretary, coal ministry.

The government on June 18 had launched the maiden auction for coal blocks without any end-use restrictions, and technical bids are scheduled to be submitted by September 29.

Centre for Science & Environment in its latest report said “of the 41 blocks put up for auction, 21 feature in the original No-Go list.” The report noted since 2015, of the 49 blocks cleared for coal mining, nine were in No-Go areas. No-Go refers to unfragmented forest landscapes having a gross forest coverage more than 30 per cent and weighted forest coverage more than 10 per cent.

Most of the mines earmarked for commercial auctions are located in Madhya Pradesh (11), followed by Chhattisgarh (9), Jharkhand (9), Odisha (9) and Maharashtra (2). Responding to Maharashtra’s objection, the Centre is not putting up the Bander mine for commercial coal auctions.

Several mine bearing states such as Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra have opposed the timing of the commercial coal auction citing the Covid pandemic. The coal ministry earlier dropped one mine from Maharashtra after the state said it falls in ‘tiger-zone’. The online auction of coal blocks for commercial mining and sale for private companies will commence in October and final winners declared in November this year.

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