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Singareni: TUs Plan to Stall Auction of 4 Blocks, May Even Call Indefinite Strike

Backing the unions, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao has written to PM Narendra Modi seeking de-listing of Singareni blocks.

Representational use only.

Kolkata: Circumstances seem to be forcing the Joint Action Committee (JAC) comprising representatives of five Central trade unions (CTUs) and the recognised one affiliated to Telangana Rashtra Samithi to chalk out a plan soon for the second round of agitation in the mines of the Singareni Collieries Company Ltd.

The fresh TU action’s objective will be the same as for the recently organised strike, that is, the four coal blocks which the Centre wants auctioned should remain under Singareni Collieries’ control. It is apparent from the latest auction intention notified by the Union coal ministry that New Delhi wants to force the pace and see how far the Singareni trade unions go to stall the auction process.

For the first time since the coal block auction process started about a few years ago, the four blocks were listed for the 13thtranche of auction and against this the TRS union and JAC organised a 72-hour strike as recently as December 9-11 in the 48 operating mines which account for a manpower of nearly 43,000. The strike was total.

The Telangana government saw merit in the unions’ demand and chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi explaining why the four blocks should remain under Singareni’s control and sought de-listing of those blocks.

The outcome of the 13thtranche auction in respect of Singareni’s blocks was against the Centre’s expectations – there was only one bid for one block and there were no bids for the other three blocks. As there have to be at least two bids in each case, consideration of the bid received was out of question. The four blocks put up for auction are: Sathupalli block III, Koygudem block III, Sravanpalli and Kalyankhani block block VI. The lone bid received was for Koyagudem. The last date for submission of bids was December 14.

What appears to have come as a surprise to TUs is that on December 16, the coal ministry notified its intention to hold the 14thtranche of auctions and in the list of 99 blocks, three of Singareni, for which no bids were received, have again been included. The auctions are conducted by the coal ministry under The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act, 2015 and The Mines And Minerals (Development And Regulation) Act, 1957.

The recognised union, which is affiliated to TRS, is Telangana Boggu Gani Karmika Sangam. The JAC unions are affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, All-India Trade Union Congress, Indian National Trade Union Congress, Hind Mazdoor Sabha and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh.

Some JAC leadersNewsClickspoke to indicated that they would soon deliberate on the developing situation and decide how to intensify the agitation, the programme for which, should circumstances warrant, include an indefinite strike.

President of the TRS union B Venkat Rao toldNewsClick: “Our MPs and MLAs are active on this issue. The mines spread over six Telangana districts are performing well and Singareni is poised for further growth. The company has incurred lot of expenditure on the exploration of the blocks that figured in the 13thtranche list. It is only logical that the blocks should become working mines under Singareni. If necessary, we will intensify our agitation”.

The general secretary of the CITU union in Telangana, Manda Narasimharao, said the JAC’s tentative plans, as of now, are to hold a dharna at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. “The Centre is going back on its commitments. It is because of commitments that Singareni went through the exploration exercise in full and incurred a huge expenditure. Why should a fully explored block be taken away from the company,” he said.

The secretary-general of INTUC union, B Janak Prasad, toldNewsClickthat the Union government was not consistent. “It had allotted blocks to Jharkhand, Odisha and Gujarat (for lignite), according to our information. Of the two other routes – reservation and auctions – it was taking the auction route despite the fact that decisions made in the past by competent authorities established Singareni’s entitlement to the blocks, ”he said. Prasad, who is also secretary of INTUC, said “if circumstances force us, we will intensify the agitation against the Centre’s move”.

D D Ramanandan, general secretary of All-India Coal Workers Federation under CITU, contended that the Centre was adopting the auction route to privatise the mines, and most of those who won bids had no experience of running mines. “They are basically traders. How many of the auctioned coal mines have gone into production? Mining is a long-gestation industry. Is the Union government monitoring the development of auctioned blocks? Industrial consumers remain overwhelmingly dependent on Coal India and Singareni. How come when stocks at thermal power plants go down, the Centre invariably asks Coal India and Singareni to augment supplies,” Ramanandan asked.

The letter written by Telangana Chief Minister KCR to Prime Minister details how the Union government is going back on the affirmative action taken by previous governments and as a result of which Singareni, despite having undertaken detailed exploration in the four blocks, is now being deprived of its logical right to develop the blocks and raise coal.

Prior to the amendment of the MM(DR) Act 1957 and till 2015, Singareni was granted exclusive rights first by the erstwhile Nizam’s government and subsequently, in keeping with the administrative and jurisdictional changes that took effect, by the Centre for carrying out exploration and coal mining in the state.

The Chief Minister’s letter also notes that the Union government had even notified Singareni’s eligibility to take up exploration in the Godavari Valley Coal Fields (GVCF) on its own. Gradually, a number of mining leases were granted by successive state governments for continuing mining activity in the newly explored areas of GVCF.

This arrangement has been continuing in accordance with the rules and procedures in force from time to time and as per a tripartite agreement involving the company, the state government (Andhra Pradesh and after it’s bifurcation, by Telangana. Accordingly, mining plans were also approved by the Union coal ministry for these leases, KCR pointed out to Modi in his letter of December 7.

After the amendment to the MM(DR) Act in 2015, allocation of coal bearing areas to government companies is done either through reservation under Section 17(A)(2) or allocation under Section 11A of the Act or through auction. Accordingly, Singareni approached the coal ministry for allocation of the four blocks for which it had completed detailed exploration. Ignoring the pleas of the state government and the company, the coal ministry included these four blocks for auctions. Therefore, KCR has demanded de-listing of the four blocks.

KCR has also raised a technical issue which supports the company’s case for being allotted the four blocks, “which are extension blocks on the dip side of the existing mining leases and adjacent to operating mines ....” Coal occurs at a considerable depth and it will be economical to access the blocks through the existing mine workings. That will also aid the company’s resource conservation efforts, it has been contended.

Singareni’s production in the current financial year is expected to be close to be 68 million tonnes (mt), against 65 plus mt in 2020-21. It meets the requirements of power plants in Telangana, Andhra, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. KCR’s letter noted that after bifurcation of what was Andhra Pradesh, Telangana’s peak demand increased from 5661 mw in June 2014 to 13688 mw in March 2021. Singareni’s sustained growth is, therefore, a must, he argued.

The writer is a senior independent journalist based in Kolkata.

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