NEW DELHI: India’s government asked the top court on Monday to safeguard some coal mine concessions deemed to have been illegally awarded as the energy-starved country’s power sector faces fresh turmoil.
Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi said 46 out of the 218 coal blocks whose award was deemed illegal by the Supreme Court last week should be exempt from cancellation because they were already operational or close to being so.
“Everything must not go in one brush. Don’t cancel everything,” Rohatgi told the Supreme Court, which is considering whether to scrap the concessions and re-auction all 218 mines following last week’s ruling.
“Forty six allocations should be exempted. They must be saved because they are in absolute readiness,” he said.
The court last week declared that the government-run procedure for awarding the blocks was illegal, putting billions of dollars of investment at risk.
The ruling follows a corruption scandal in 2012 over block allocations to private companies allegedly at cut-rate prices. The national auditor estimated this led to Rs1.86 trillion ($110billion) in lost revenue.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing administration came to power in May promising to reform and revive the ailing economy, and pledging clean governance.
The Supreme Court’s hearing on whether to cancel the illegal blocks threatens to throw the power sector into further disarray.
India’s starved power sector is struggling to produce enough electricity to meet rising demand, with blackouts common in large swathes of the country.
The power sector, which relies on coal for two thirds of electricity production, has warned in recent weeks its coal supplies are running dangerously low.
Coal companies have long struggled to provide enough stock to power stations due to poor infrastructure, scandals and complex approvals for mining.
India imports vast quantities of coal, draining foreign reserves, despite sitting on the world’s fifth largest reserves.
Last week the Supreme Court said there were legal flaws in the coal block allocation procedure between 1993 and 2009 and declared that “common good and public interest have thus suffered heavily”.
Many blocks were awarded under the centre-left Congress government which was ousted in May.