Mines, coal bills get Parliament’s nod

Deccan Herald, March 20, 2015

The bill on mines and minerals, paving the way for auction of blocks for prospecting, was passed by the Rayya Sabha on Friday, even as opposition parties, notably the Congress, wanted it to be referred again to the relevant select committee.

The bill was pressed for voting ? 117 members were in favour and 69 against it.

The taking up of the bill had to be deferred on Thursday as the opposition said that mineral-bearing states had not been consulted in preparation of the bill and wanted the select committee, which had sent it back without changes on March 18, to take a re-look.

Earlier on Tuesday, amid an opposition walkout, Lok Sabha passed the bill seeking to introduce the system of auction of mines to enhance transparency and augment mineral production.

Steel and mines minister Narendra Singh Tomar had on Tuesday said the bill once enacted will increase transparency, end discretion, augment production and benefit the local population.

Noting that iron ore production had gradually declined to 152 million tonnes in 2013-14 from 218 million tonnes in 2009-10 and its exports fell to 16 million tonnes from 47 million tonnes, he said the ordinance was the need of the hour in view of the crisis in the mining sector.

The crucial bill that provides legal framework for auction of coal blocks was passed by Parliament today, replacing an ordinance that was to expire on April 5.

The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015 was approved by Rajya Sabha after several amendments moved by the Congress and Left were defeated, on the last day of the first half of Budget session.

The bill was passed with 107 members voting in favour and 62 against in the Upper 245-member House where the ruling BJP-led coalition is in a minority, indicating that some non-NDA parties back the government.

Lok Sabha had already passed the bill on March 4. However, the government was on tenterhooks till the Rajya Sabha cleared it as today was the last day of the first leg of Budget session and the ordinance was set to expire on April five.

The bill, when introduced in the Upper House after passage in Lok Sabha, was sent to a Select Committee on March 11 as the opposition parties insisted on proper scrutiny and changes in the proposed legislation. The Committee gave its report on Wednesday.

The legislation replaces an Ordinance issued by the government on October 21 last year and then re-promulgated on December 26 after the Supreme Court cancelled allocation of 204 coal blocks terming the allocations as fatally flawed. Passage of the bill provides legal framework for the auction of the coal blocks.

Government has already auctioned 33 blocks garnering revenue to the tune of over Rs 2.13 lakh crore, surpassing the former CAG Vinod Rai’s estimates of Rs 1.86 lakh crore loss.

Amendments were moved by Congress members Digvijay Singh and P Bhattacharya, CPI-M’s P Rajeev, K N Balagopal, T N Seema and Tapan Kumar Sen and CPI’s D Raja but all of them were defeated. Some members, including DMK Tiruchi Siva, withdrew their amendments.

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