As litigation amps up after the Supreme Court’s cancellation of all captive coal-block allocations, court documents are throwing light on one of the more puzzling aspects of the coal scam — the 74:26 MDO agreements… These JVs had several striking features. The MDOs held 74% in the JVs — which meant they controlled the mining operations. Two, the price charged by the MDOs was not on cost-plus basis — it was pegged to the prevailing Coal India price. This was odd because the public sector miner has underground and opencast mines, the former being more expensive to operate, and its price is an average of its cost of coal extraction from both kinds of mines. In contrast, the MDO blocks were all surface mines.
What is more, several such JVs were signed well before the blocks were even allotted. Take Karnataka Power Corporation Ltd (KPCL). It signed an MDO contract with Kolkata-based Eastern Minerals & Trading Agency (EMTA) on February 19, 2002. However, blocks were allotted to KPCL on November 10, 2003 — over a year and half later. This created a fresh puzzle. Given the competitive frenzy to get coal blocks, why were the state PSUs so sure they would land one that they signed mining contracts even before the blocks were alloted?
Ten years after the tsunami, life in India’s coral-fringed Nicobar Islands is settling into a new pattern. For the most part, it is an ugly one. In the tiny island of Car Nicobar—it has a perimeter of just 45 kms—even 12 year olds are getting drunk. “There was always some drinking,” comments Samir Acharya, a local environmentalist. “But what we are seeing now is binge drinking.” Hard liquor is the most preferred drink now, not toddy.There are other changes. The traditional community structure, where extended families lived together in homes large enough for all of them, is being replaced by nuclear families. The islands are now far more dependent on the world outside for their supplies. With that, the local economy has changed from a simple one bartering or selling coconuts to a far more complex and cash-intensive one.
for a while now, i have been trying to go on a cycle ride at the end of every year — have succeeded three out of four years. in 2014, biologist vidya athreya and i went to the andamans. and i came back and wrote this story about cycling up the islands.
The friend is a biologist curious to see what the forests in this archipelago are like — the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were connected to what is now Indonesia before rising sea levels cut them off. As such, not only are life forms on the isles closer in origin to Indonesian than Indian ones, their geographic isolation has resulted in the creation of several species unique to them. As for me, I am looking to get into shape. This is also my second trip to the islands — the first was a reporting assignment in 2004 just before the tsunami. The ride is a chance to see how the patterns I spotted then – water shortages, over-population, and decimation of the indigenous people – have unfolded since.
After the Coal Bill, it is the turn of the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Rules, 2014. Rules say the central government can allot a coalblock where mining has already started to any company recommended by the ministry of power which “henceforth may be awarded a power project based on competitive bids for tariff”. The phrasing, say industry experts, creates an outcome where companies become eligible for an allotment even if they just intend to bid for a power project.
The new coal bill may allow the discretionary allotment of mines, as experts say a new clause in the proposed law can be interpreted as facilitating such action. However, coal ministry officials say the clause has been inserted only to allow tariff-based bidding.Section 5(1) of The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2014, says the government can allot coal blocks deallocated by the Supreme Court not only to public sector units or joint ventures between two or more government companies but also “to a company which has been awarded a power project on the basis of competitive bids for tariff (including Ultra Mega Power Projects)” or UMPPs.
A new report has warned that premature deaths due to emissions from thermal power projects (TPPs) will rise two-three times as India’s reliance on thermal power increases. The report by Urban Emissions. Info, an independent research group working on India’s air quality, and Mumbai-based NGO Conservation Action Trust, expects India’s thermal power generation to rise from 159 gigawatts in 2014 to 450 GW in 2030. Coal consumption is expected to rise proportionately, trebling from the current 660 million tons/year to 1800 million tonnes. The impact of all this on India’s air quality will be predictable.
The TSR Subramanian Committee’s report on overhauling environmental governance in India is a puzzling document. It correctly identifies environmental crises facing India and the lacunae in environmental regulations, monitoring and enforcement responsible. And goes on to outline a new architecture for clearing, monitoring and resolving disputes around projects. The report also makes, however, a set of standalone observations. Some of these are valid — like audits by independent experts to vet the forest department’s work. Others don’t seem to hold up. For instance, it says laws should be amended to ensure customs such as Nag Panchami, where cobras are caught and fed milk, are no longer prosecutable.