While quashing allocation of 214 coal blocks allotted since 1993, the apex court granted six months 'breathing time' to companies whose 42 blocks were cancelled, to wind up business
The Supreme Court on Wednesday quashed allocation of 214 coal blocks out of 218 allocated since 1993. While announcing the judgement, the apex court granted six months 'breathing time' to companies whose blocks were cancelled, to wind up business. Only four ultra mega power projects (UMPPs), including NTPC and SAIL have been exempted out of the 218 coal blocks.
The Court asked Coal India Ltd to take over such blocks within six months and auction them. As per the apex court order, 36 operational coal blocks have been cancelled and they are ordered to stop production after 1 March 2015. Out of the 214 coal blocks, 168 of the allocations are cancelled with immediate effect while 42 has been given six months' grace time to wind up.
The Supreme Court also directed these 42 block holders to pay a penalty of Rs295 per tonne of coal extracted for making up for the loss highlighted by the CAG in its report.
In a draft report issued in March 2014, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) accused the union government of allocating coal blocks in an inefficient manner during 2004–2009. The CAG Final Report tabled in the Parliament put the figure at Rs1.86 lakh crore ($30 billion). Even the Parliamentary Standing Committee report on Coal and Steel states that all coal blocks distributed between 1993 and 2008 were done in an unauthorized manner and allotment of all mines where production is yet to start should be cancelled.
Last month, the apex court held that all coal block allocations made since 1993 till 2010 before pre-auction era during previous NDA and UPA regimes have been done in an illegal manner by an "ad-hoc and casual" approach "without application of mind".
While passing strictures on the Screening Committee, the Supreme Court, in its ruling on 25th August, had said, "...the entire allocation of coal block as per recommendations made by the Screening Committee from 14 July 1993 in 36 meetings and the allocation through the Government dispensation route suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and legal flaws. The Screening Committee has never been consistent, it has not been transparent, there is no proper application of mind, it has acted on no material in many cases, relevant factors have seldom been its guiding factors, there was no transparency and guidelines have seldom guided it. On many occasions, guidelines have been honoured more in their breach. There was no objective criteria, nay, no criteria for evaluation of comparative merits. The approach had been ad-hoc and casual. There was no fair and transparent procedure, all resulting in unfair distribution of the national wealth. Common good and public interest have, thus, suffered heavily. Hence, the allocation of coal blocks based on the recommendations made in all the 36 meetings of the Screening Committee is illegal."
The Screening Committee had allotted coal blocks to 29 state government public sector undertakings (PSUs) while 72 PSUs were allotted blocks through government dispensation route.
The Bench headed by Chief Justice RM Lodha, had said, "The allocation of coal blocks through Government dispensation route, however laudable the object may be, also is illegal since it is impermissible as per the scheme of the CMN Act. No State Government or public sector undertakings of the State Governments are eligible for mining coal for commercial use. Since allocation of coal is permissible only to those categories under Section 3(3) and (4), the joint venture arrangement with ineligible firms is also impermissible."
The apex court mentioned that no challenge was laid before it for the blocks where competitive bidding was held for the lowest tariff for power for UMPPs. Prashant Bhushan, counsel for Common Cause said that since allocation for UMPPs is in accord with the opinion given in Natural Resources Allocation Reference and the benefit of the coal block is passed on to the public, the said allocations may not be cancelled.
He, however, had pointed out that in some cases, the government has allowed diversion of coal from UMPP to other end user for commercial exploitation.
"Having regard to this, it is directed that the coal blocks allocated for UMPP would only be used for UMPP and no diversion of coal for commercial exploitation would be permitted," the Supreme Court had said in its judgement on 25 August 2014.
Today the public transport scenario in most major cities is pathetic. Uber, a US company, is offering some relief to Indians from the ever adamant auto and taxiwallas
In a remarkable turn of events, Uber, a US company, is in India with a radio cab service that is challenging not only the existing players like Mega Cabs, Meru and OlaCabs but also auto rickshaws, the unruly and polluting mode of transport for a large number of urban Indians today.
Uber, which translates to Super in German, is a company from San Francisco, US. Much like what Amazon is doing in every market it enters, Uber's first priority seems to be to gain market share. This has led to Uber’s services being competitive even against auto rickshaws.
When Uber launched in America, it's proposition was to provide cab services using top-end cars like Mercedes, BMW and Audi. Now in india, Uber realises like most foreign brands in India, that it cannot win without attacking the low-priced segment. So, it has launched UberX, its economy version of Uber.
For India, Uber Black, the higher-end service uses Totoya Camry, Innova, Volkswagen Vento and the Nissan Sunny while UberX, which is the cheaper version, uses Maruti Swift Dzire, Toyota Etios and Tata Manza.
The whole process is very easy to use. You download an application onto your phone and supply the credit card details. Then you use the app to call car. You can see how far the car is and track its coming. You don’t need to pay by cash or card each time. You account is simply debited when your ride is over.
With already crowded roads, replacing autos with cars is a decision, which will need a huge infrastructure push in almost all big cities. Autos are cheaper to maintain and hence can cut across a much wider drivership. What Uber has on its side, is its ability to take losses for longer than its competitors with a huge war chest, but the question is can it outbleed the Indian urban taxi and rickshaw market?
A price war has already begun in most metros. The graphic above shows Uber's promotional rates. These rates may or may not continue but as of now they seem to be under-cutting the competition. In response to these rates from Uber, OlaCabs fired its response by cutting prices for its budget cab service called Ola Mini. Ola has cut rates to become cheaper than even auto rickshaws in the respective urban centres (see chart below) atleast for longer distances.
In the niche segment that would want expensive cars or luxurious rides as their taxis, Uber has a clear lead, but the mass market where Uber is trying to break through cares less about the status value of an expensive car as against cheaper fares. Then comes the issue of pushback by the taxi and autos. The taxi unions are very strong as are the auto unions. Once they see their business under attack, will they keep quiet or use politicians to go after Uber?
It is interesting to note that Uber has been banned in Germany and has faced protests everywhere else. Uber works in some say because, “given the universality of clunkers and irregular service, the introduction of higher-quality, upmarket cars and a vastly improved notion of service - both of which Uber provides - is a definite benefit to American consumers.” Indians are at the opposite end, having to beg taxis and auto rickshaws to take them and are sometimes forced to pay exorbitant rates.
Indian radio cab companies saw creaking public transport infrastructure as an opportunity. Now, with Uber upping the ante and becoming compeititive not only to taxis but also to autos, it becomes a wide open game. Already Ola Mini has slashed prices to approximately what rickshaws charge in Pune. Policymarkers have not been able to deliver better transportation for us. At least we have some relief from a global technology company.
Consumers in the US never received costly machines advertised as helping them obtain Bitcoins, the virtual currency
A federal court has temporarily shut down a company that failed to deliver products that it said would help enable the successful mining of bitcoins, which is a form of virtual currency that can be used as payment for goods and services obtained online.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in its first bitcoin case, alleges that Kansas City-based BF Labs, also called Butterfly Labs, bilked consumers out of at least $20 million and potentially up to $50 million by charging them thousands of dollars for computers it either never delivered or shipped so late after the orders that the machines had become obsolete.
Bitcoins can only be generated by mining, a process in which consumers are awarded bitcoins by racing to solve puzzles with their computers. But as bitcoins have become more popular and more miners have joined the network, it has become increasingly difficult for miners to make a profit, the FTC said.
Butterfly Labs offered a solution, by selling machines and services – costing between $149 and up to about $30,000 — that the company said would help consumers solve the puzzles quickly to obtain the bitcoins. However, more than 20,000 consumers who paid upfront for a mining machine that the company said would be delivered October 2012 never received them almost a year later. And those that were delivered were defective, obsolete or mining fewer bitcoins than the machines could have if delivered sooner, the FTC alleged.
“We often see that when a new and little-understood opportunity like Bitcoin presents itself, scammers will find ways to capitalize on the public’s excitement and interest,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.