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CBI nixes plans for JSMDC coal blocks

Ranchi, Nov. 21: CBI has informed the state government that it’s probe into coal block allocations extends to all eight coal blocks belonging to Jharkhand State Mineral Development Corporation (JSMDC), including the three that were to be handed over to private companies for development.

The CBI’s intimation, that reached the state yesterday, effectively freezes all efforts by the Jharkhand government at kick-starting development activity around idling coal blocks.

In its letter, the CBI noted that although it was a state-owned public sector undertaking (PSU), JSMDC was under the scanner, yielding a double whammy for the state entity which was in for another shock yesterday when an inter-ministerial group decided to de-allocate one of its coal blocks.

It is, however, still not clear which block got the axe as the state government was yet to receive a formal communique from the Union coal ministry.

Jharkhand approached the Centre in the second week of November to green light a plan to develop three JSMDC coal blocks in partnership with private companies after Raj Bhavan expressed its apprehensions about the initiative and sent back relevant files to the state government, not once, but twice.

The three coal blocks —Pindra-Debipur-Khaowatand (PDK), Patratu and Rabodh — were to be developed through joint ventures with a consortium of AMR Infrastructure and Coastal Energy, Jindal Steel & Power Limited (JSPL) and Adhunik Group company Orissa Manganese & Minerals respectively.

“We have received a letter from the CBI which says that they are probing all coal block allocations which also includes JSMDC’s three. We have sent the CBI letter along with the state’s proposal to Raj Bhavan once again. It is now up to the governor to take a final decision,” additional chief secretary A.K. Sarkar, who holds charge of the state mines department, told The Telegraph.

CBI has already filed cases against a number of companies, including Jharkhand-based Vini Iron and Steel that allegedly boasts of links with former chief minister Madhu Koda and his associates.

The Pindra-Debipur-Khaowatand block in East Bokaro Coalfields was allocated to JSMDC way back in 2006. Patratu and Rabodh coal blocks in South Karanpura and West Bokaro coalfields respectively were allotted to the state mining entity in 2007.

But JSMDC, due to various problems related to lack of manpower and infrastructure, was unable to develop these, prompting it to opt for the JV route.

In August, Raj Bhavan sent back the proposal, asking the state government to get a Cabinet approval. The government did so in October and sent the proposal once again to the Governor, seeking his nod for handing over the three blocks to private firms.

But Raj Bhavan rejected the proposal again.

Opposition parties, specially the Babulal Marandi-led JVM, have since upped the ante against chief minister Arjun Munda on the issue, accusing his government of “selling out” to private interests.

But state government has maintained that the private companies were chosen after competitive bidding and all the three had accepted all the terms and conditions.

So far, the inter-ministerial group has recommended de-allocation of three coal blocks in Jharkhand — Macherkunda allocated to Bihar Sponge Iron Limited, Bramhadih allocated to Castron Mining Limited and Lalgarh (North) allocated DOMCO Smokeless Fuels Private Limited.

The CBI is also looking into the affairs of Vini Iron & Udyog Limited and JAS Infrastructures.