If we are really serious about generating adequate power and distributing it, the coal industry should be given the responsibility of appointing private contractors to lay the railway tracks, so as to establish the required connection from pithead to the main connecting line, from where it becomes the Railway’s responsibility to haul the coal
In the recent months, the issue of coal blocks has been discussed at great lengths and all that has really happened is actually ‘discussions’ back and forth. Not much progress in work, really.
One thing that has clearly emerged is that progress in these meetings has simply come to a naught all because work cannot proceed further due to lack of clearances of one or another.
As we said before these columns before, each department or ministry is concerned with ego trips and papers are moving on snail mail.
For instance, we had earlier covered the issue of non-availability of rakes for coal movement from pitheads, where more than 100 million tonnes are lying for evacuation. Now Coal India chairman Narasing Rao has volunteered to pay for idle rakes to the Indian Railways, if they are made available at the designated locations and not ‘used’ by CIL. This is a welcome gestures and shows that Mr Rao is keen to get the coal moving to hungry customers.
Railway Board chairman, Vinay Mittal, has now openly charged that although they are trying to complete the tracks, the main stumbling block is from ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) without whose clearances, work cannot be speeded up, which is on hand.
According to Mr Rao, the three rail road projects for coal transportation that cover Tori-Shibpuri (73 km), Raigud-Mand (300 km) and Vasundra mines-Jharsaguda (55 km) are under various stages of development. Both Tori and Vasundra links are financed by Coal India but the work has been far from satisfactory!
Passing the buck to the MoEF, Mr Mittal has stated that the bottleneck for progress lies with them, and he is helpless. He has categorically stated that if there are further delays in clearances, the whole project will not only be delayed but become more expensive due to cost overruns!
And this is not the first time that the MoEF is under fire for inordinate delays in issuing clearances. Its rigid stand in application of norms to be complied, before being given clearance, supposedly takes an average three to four years in practice. State government clearances are also stumbling blocks before work can commence in the mines. These areas have to be revisited to see if some relaxation is possible so that work on hand does not suffer.
In the meantime, the question of appointing a Coal Regulator and the proposal to discuss the Coal Regulatory Authority Bill by the Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by P Chidambaram, has been postponed for the time being.
It would therefore appear that all those involved in such vital development, expansion and consolidation of the coal industry, so essential to the nation’s progress, are actually participants in playing the musical chair. It is strange that the coal ministry and power ministry are planning to set up a meeting to discuss various issues pending before them, without the very presence of the railway ministry! No doubt, if the three were to sit together to discuss important issues, who knows, the MoEF may give it a miss. In other words, someone vital in the whole chain will be found missing and the matter will again get postponed.
Are we really serious about generating adequate power and distributing it without interruptions for the industry and masses? Then why not the coal industry be given the responsibility of appointing private contractors to lay the railway tracks on approved blueprints given by the Railway Board, so as to establish the required connection from pithead to the main connecting line, for a coal siding, from where it becomes the Railway’s responsibility to haul the coal?
Let the government give power generators the right to make proposals on these lines with a time frame within which it becomes the individual responsibilities of companies to get the job done, whether by local or international rail-road contractors?
Read more from AK Ramdas
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was 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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