Creation of a coal regulator is not a panacea for our problems!

Function and powers of the coal regulator need to be specific and clearly stated, in order to prevent disputes arising out of interpretation of the rules laid down

It is gratifying to note the Supreme Court bench, headed Justice RM Lodha has issued orders to the government to come with a law to prevent Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) work from external influence. CBI has been thus directed not to share its findings with anyone except its own concerned team members, and not to political bosses and other government officials. They expect such a law to be brought in the next 60 days or so, if possible.


Such a move would prevent officials from the Coal Ministry and others from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to make changes in CBI reports in future, as has been hitherto. The CBI affidavit on this matter has brought to bear on the government that it is interfering in the work of CBI.  The new law will surely prevent this.


Effectively, this will make the independence of CBI complete.  However, CBI must also ensure that systems are in place to avoid any loopholes that may lead to "accidental" leakages


What is not clear, however, is how, when and to whom the CBI finally submit its findings (reports) on matters referred to it?  Also, if and when the Law is brought into effect, it will also need to specifically state, who and how matters can be referred to CBI in the first place?


In the meantime, yet another significant move has been made in relation to the issue of Coal Regulator, and the Law Ministry is expected to ready the final draft Bill shortly. No time-frame is mentioned in the press reports.


The Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by Finance Minister P Chidambaram announced that the proposed coal regulator will not have the power to decide the price of coal, as this is best left to the producer, who will be better qualified - in assessing or guaranteeing the caloric value - supply position and other related details.


Here again, the function and powers of the coal regulator need to be specific and clearly stated, in order to prevent disputes arising out of interpretation of the rules laid down.


At the moment, Coal India, being a monopolistic entity can and has been virtually ruling the industry in terms of pricing, issue of license to open or to close mines, but itself depends upon the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) for clearances for actual mining operation. Practically, in all cases, actual mining operations are then passed on to independent contractors!


Even a brief study of the industry will show that a lot of stumbling blocks are due to clearances that need to be obtained from both state governments and the MOEF, before mining operations can really commence.


The question of out of turn coal allocations made earlier is already under review in terms of cancellation of licenses, details of which are known to one and all.


The crux of the matter is that the country needs power and is sitting on one of the largest deposits of coal in the world, besides being the world's largest producer. There are too many organizations involved in dealing with this issue but with each trying to establish its importance in the process, everything else gets delayed.


Can we think in terms of one totally independent set of qualified people who will untangle the mystery of so many departments, organizations, committees and so on, and come out with a simple workable system?


Finally, for the position of coal regulator, we need to get someone suitable with no blemish. Can we think of someone like Justice Santosh Hegde from Karnataka who was the Lokayukta chief?


(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.)

1 decade ago
Unless the basic mentality of being honest and maintaining the concept of 'Dharma' in all public dealings,all these moves would fail before the cunning and ruthless politicians. Congress being veterans in these shady dealings would win hands down. Others would emulate them since it would mean having a level playing ground ! Only God can help us the citizens.
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