Consumer Issues
Mahanadi Coalfields sets up SPV to dispatch coal faster through railway

The SPV set up by Mahanadi Coalfields will facilitate construction of railway infrastructure to ease coal movement between mines and users. Time for Coal India to have its own rakes, and build designated rail tracks and corridors?

 

Only a few weeks ago, Anil Swarup, Union Coal Secretary, had mentioned that they have identified 50 railway projects that needs to be established so that India can eventually meet the projected target of 1000 million tonnes of coal.  It is not only the production that matters, but, more importantly, the issue of evacuation of coal from pit heads so that they are able to reach this fuel supply to the desired destinations in time. Transportation logistics have been a great stumbling block and this bottle neck has to be overcome to achieve desired results.
 
From the current level of production at about 550 million tonnes, it is envisaged that, by 2020 coal production ought to reach 1000 million tonnes to meet the growing demand. It is a daunting target and needs herculean efforts and planning to achieve the same.
Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL) is one of the subsidiaries of Coal India Ltd, the output of which is expected to reach 127 million tonnes by end of March, this year, as against 110.4 mt achieved in 2013-14. This proposed increase is most likely due to the environmental clearance of some of the mines, by expansion, at Lakhanpur and Bhubaneswar and also the forest clearance in case of Bharatpur mines.  CMD AK Sahay recently stated that MCL supplies coal to power companies in South India and Odisha, including NTPC, Talcher Thermal Power Station besides the aluminium maker, Nalco. MCL plans to reach 140 mt by 2015-16.
 
MCL, according to their website, has as many as 32 projects on hand, with various capacities, for which environmental clearances have been received, as early as 1990 and as late as December 2014. In the case of Sambalpur OCP, it has "consent to operate letters", but the validity is upto only 31 March 2015.  Only a few, like Kaniha OCP, Talcher UG, Nandira UG, Nataraj UG, Talcher (W) UG and Lakhanpur OCP have clearance up to 31 March 2016. These, it is hoped, will also be handled with care and expeditiously, so that the permits do not lapse!
 
In order to meet the ambitious projects on hand, Mahanadi Coalfields, has taken the lead, in response to the call made by the Coal Ministry, by signing an agreement with the Odisha Chief Secretary and the Union Coal Secretary to establish 2 special purpose vehicles (SPVs) - one each for Talcher and IB Valley.  More details on these SPVs are expected shortly.
 
Briefly, however, it may be stated that this will facilitate the construction of railway infrastructure to ease coal movement between MCL and the public sector units under Indian Railways and the State Government.  Under the SPVs, Railways are expected to acquire the land needed for SPVs. Discussions on these lines have been going on from as early as September 2012 but it is only now this has come to the agreement stage, so that work on these lines can commence. 
 
MCL has made this serious move.  It is in the interest of other successful subsidiaries of Coal India to follow suit and come forward to place orders for rakes on the wagon builders.  Considering the incremental increase in production envisaged why not CIL project their needs for these rakes in the next five-six years, covering both domestic miners' needs as well as those that would be required to move the imported coal. Power generators do not have much choice as they have to obtain their needs from imports that their production does not suffer.
 
It is time that Coal India plans and creates a SPV, to be named as Coal India Express Ltd, as an independent unit. Its main function will be to have its own rakes, build designated rail tracks and corridors, and most importantly, it needs to work out the logistics of rail, rake movement at night, without hindrance and delays, so that evacuation is as swift as the delivery at the point of discharge.
 
If necessary, as Railway Minister has often claimed that they lack funds, Government ought to consider and issue Railway Tax Free Bonds with attractive rate of interest, so that public can participate. Such Bonds will enable Railways also to go in for the much needed infrastructure development envisaged by them, so that they are well equipped to move upto 1,000 million tonnes in the years ahead.
 
MCL must also look seriously to obtain the most advanced, state of the art mining equipment, and do what it can to develop underground mines as well.
 
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)
 

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Black Money: News report shows 1195 names having Swiss bank accounts

According to 'Swiss Leaks', a joint investigation carried out by Indian Express, Washington-based ICIJ and Paris-based Le Monde, among 1,195 Indians named in the reports were members of top business families such as the Ambanis, Burmans, Rahejas and Salgaocars  

 

As many as 1,195 Indians – twice the 628 names given to Indian government by French authorities in 2011 – have accounts with the Swiss arm of HSBC Bank, says a report from the Indian Express. Reacting to the report, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said, most of the names (in the news report) already figure in the list submitted by the Government to the Special Investigative Team (SIT). According to a report from Reuters, British bank HSBC Holdings Plc had admitted failings by its Swiss subsidiary, in response to media reports it helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets.
 
The new list includes names of account holders and their balances for the year 2006-07.  The investigation, conducted by the newspaper in collaboration with Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and the Paris-based Le Monde newspaper, revealed names including prominent businessmen like Reliance Industries’ chairman Mukesh Ambani, his brother and ADAG chairman Anil Ambani, industrialist Yashovardhan Birla, real estate magnate Chandru Lachhmandas Raheja and Goan tycoon Dattaraj Salgaocar, among others.
 
According to the joint investigations by the newspapers, there are names of a few account holders with connections to politicians. Names of former UPA minister Preneet Kaur and former Congress MP Annu Tandon feature on the list. Neelam Narayan Rane and Nilesh Rane, the wife and son of Maharashtra's former chief minister Narayan Rane are also on the list. Smita Thackeray, daughter-in-law of the late Shiv Sena leader Balasaheb Thackeray, also features on the list.
 
Prominent names such as Rajendra Ruia, Vimal Ruia, Naresh Goyal and Swraj Paul are also in the latest list published by the newspapers. 
 
Jaitley said, the government will look into these additional names that have emerged in the reports and launch action against them if found to be Indian residents.
 
According to a report from the Guardian, that the files showed HSBC's Swiss bank routinely allowed clients to withdraw "bricks" of cash, often in foreign currencies which were of little use in Switzerland, marketed schemes which were likely to enable wealthy clients to avoid European taxes and colluded with some to conceal undeclared accounts from domestic tax authorities. 
 
"The data was supplied by Herve Falciani, a former IT employee of HSBC's Swiss private bank. HSBC said Falciani downloaded details of accounts and clients at the end of 2006 and early 2007. French authorities have obtained data on thousands of the customers and shared them with tax authorities elsewhere, including Argentina," says the report from Reuters.
 
Meanwhile, the SIT on black money is scheduled to meet later in the day to discuss status of cases of Indians found to have been holding illegal accounts abroad and disclosures made by an international private investigation.
 
According to reports, the SIT had already solicited information against Indian black money holders from the public. Some names have been reflected in the ICIJ list, which have not been there earlier and it will be discussed during the meeting today.
 

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Searching for ‘Sickness’
Is screening a dangerous marketing trick for your health?
 
There was an interesting article, some time ago, in The Atlantic, written by Oklahoma physician John Henning Schumann, which brings up the issue of over-screening—medical tests that simply are not necessary, or worse, detrimental. “General health checks did not reduce morbidity or mortality, neither overall nor for cardiovascular or cancer causes, although the number of new diagnoses was increased. Important harmful outcomes, such as the number of follow-up diagnostic procedures or short-term psychological effects, were often not studied or reported and many trials had methodological problems. With the large number of participants and deaths included, the long follow-up periods used, and considering that cardiovascular and cancer mortality were not reduced, general health checks are unlikely to be beneficial,” says the Cochrane Library.
 
I have been condemning routine screenings, especially cancer screenings, for decades. Many routine screening-detected ‘cancers’, in fact, are only incidentalomas which, if left alone or not detected in the first place, would have outlived the person. For example, the so-called ‘ductal carcinoma in situ’ in the breast is not a cancer at all. 
 
Cancer screening is not only useless but downright dangerous. The best studies (these are studies done over 10-year durations in Canada, the US and Europe) have found that you have to screen 2,100 women every year for 11 years to prevent one death. So, to answer the question, ‘Is it lifesaving?’ Yes. One in 2,100 women would benefit from being screened over an 11-year period. 
 
But, at the same time, of those 2,100 women, about 600 to 700 will have a false-positive. They will find something unusual or something abnormal and that will require biopsies, open surgeries, mastectomies and psychological trauma wrote Alan Cassels of University of Victoria (BC) who has authored several books on screening. The best one, according to me, was: Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Diseases. This book is an encyclopaedia of the scam of screening.
 
Screening in apparently healthy people is encouraged mainly to make lots of money from post-screening activities. It is just another marketing trick and a potentially dangerous one at that.
 
One can have a cancer in his/her body and live a perfectly long and healthy life. The cancer literature in medical science which is funded by the industry is mostly wrong. John Ioannidis at Stanford found that most of those studies cannot be replicated independently. Of the hundreds of studies by John Ioannidis, most did not stand up to scrutiny. This applies especially to cancers and statin drugs for prevention.
 
I would end this by quoting Dr Andrew Oxman of the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for the Health Services in Oslo, who told Reuters: “There are lots of examples where things start to be used and have entered the market based on surrogate outcomes and then actually proved harmful.” He mentioned the heart rhythm drugs encainide and flecainide which, for many years, were given to people with acute heart attacks. But trials showed they were actually bad for these patients. 
 
“These drugs were given by well-meaning clinicians, but they actually killed more people than the Vietnam War did,” Oxman said. I still remember the days when I was senior registrar in cardiology at The Middlesex Hospital, London, where the protocol in the CCU was to give all these drugs one after another even if a couple of innocent premature beats are seen on the monitor in this order—Lignocaine, procainamide, encainide, flecainide. Most of these drugs were later shown to be killers!
 
I was once hauled up before an enquiry committee for not following the protocol in a healthy MP admitted one evening directly from the House of Commons where he felt ‘suffocated’. He was, of course, absolutely normal, as proved by later tests. He was grateful to me but I had to face a trial for dereliction of my duty in preference to my patient’s safety!
 
“When it comes to screening, a doctor who says ‘Let’s err on the side of caution,’ may actually err on the side of reckless ignorance and grave harm.” – Otis Webb Brawley
 
(Professor Dr BM Hegde, a Padma Bhushan awardee in 2010, is an MD, PhD, FRCP (London, Edinburgh, Glasgow & Dublin), FACC and FAMS.)

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COMMENTS

Sreekanth Yelicherla

2 years ago

Prof, it is high time that you should think about writing a book which creates awareness among the people. Please think about it. These online articles appear for a week or two and have limited target. But a book can be gifted to elders to read.

Joseph Korah

2 years ago

Thanks Dr. Hegde for spreading the awareness of unnecessary medical tests.

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