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.
A high-level committee headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian has, among other things, proposed a radical overhaul of how India ensures compliance with environmental clearances. Arguing that the present system, built around physical inspection by government employees, has created a rent-seeking ‘inspector raj’, the committee — which was set up by the government to review environment-related laws — has proposed an “utmost good faith clause”… In both environmental and industry circles, there is scepticism about the proposal.
The good faith clause is built on the assumption that industry will provide data which might be used against it. In this story, I argue the system will, ergo, get gamed.
In May this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that Delhi’s air quality is the worst in the world. In the months that followed this perception about Delhi’s air has strengthened further as winter smog set in the capital. This perception, however, could be incorrect. Air quality of other Indian cities and towns could be worse than Delhi’s. That is because the air quality information being generated by the state and central pollution control boards is badly flawed, and we don’t have credible information about air quality in any place other than the capital.