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Coal block cancel plan

New Delhi, Jan. 15: The Centre today informed the Supreme Court that it was considering cancelling 61 coal block allocations but clarified this was because they had been idle “very long” and not because of any “illegality” in the allotments.

A decision on the blocks, allotted between 1993 and 2008, will be taken after a review to be completed within six weeks within which the firms will have to get the “bottlenecks” — essentially environment and state clearances — removed, attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati told the court on behalf of the Centre.

Any cancellation should not be construed as an admission of “wrongdoing” as the allocations “do not in any manner constitute an acknowledgement or acceptance of the fact that there was anything improper or illegal in the procedure”, Vahanvati said.

His clarifications come against the backdrop of the CBI probe into alleged irregularities in allocations and losses to the government because of the process. The court is monitoring the probe, which followed two PILs.

Today, the bench asked the Centre why it took so long in initiating the steps for de-allocating the 61 “pending” blocks. “Why was there laxity till now. Why was it (deallocation) held up till now? If it (the allocations) remains pending for long, the goal is frustrated,” the bench said.

Vahanvati denied any laxity and asserted that failure to clear deficiencies within a specified period now would lead to cancellations. The period is four to six weeks.

The 61 blocks have been classified into a few categories. The first includes coal-fields where preliminary or “Stage I” environmental clearance has not come through yet. In such cases, the companies will have to submit proof of clearances within six weeks, failing which a decision will be taken to cancel the allotment, Vahanvati said.

Another category relates to blocks where the states had not issued mining leases in spite of all the approvals. The firms have three weeks to get the leases or face cancellation.

The third pertains to blocks unexplored or partially explored and where prospecting licences have not been obtained or where such licences have been issued but geological reports have not been prepared, Vahanvati said. In these cases, the companies would have to furnish the two mandatory documents within three weeks.

For blocks where “Stage II” forest clearances have not come, the Centre will conduct a review on a case-by-case basis and take a decision within six weeks. The environment ministry will be requested to take decisions within that time, Vahanvati said.