The bottom-line is to bring transparency, and technology will not be limited only to the e-auction but will be used extensively in this department and in Coal India, affirms Anil Swarup, Secretary, Ministry of Coal, Government of India, in conversation with Dr Ravi Gupta, Kartik Sharma and Nayana Singh of ENN
The first phase of auction for the coal blocks is slated for February 11, 2015. Do you think that e-auctions will help in maintaining transparency and speeding up the process?
To my mind, technology plays a very important role in bringing transparency into governance. I don’t think we could have thought in terms of transparency without using technology. That has been my approach in my previous assignments, too, and I hope to carry on like this as Coal Secretary as well. So, in a first, we are using technology for conducting auction through a portal, where the process of bidding will be visible to others. The bottom line is to bring transparency in whatever we do, and I can assure you that it will not be limited only to the e-auction but technology will be used extensively in this department and in Coal India.
Transportation of coal and its theft in the process has been an issue all these years. How do you think employing IT tools will help address these issues?
Technology can resolve many such issues. We are preparing a strategy paper for increasing coal production by Coal India from the present level of 160 million tonnes to 1 billion tonne by 2019. We are going to have workshops to decide the course. In a month’s time, we should be ready with the strategy paper. The strategy will include a lot of technological interventions, not only in excavation of coal but also its handling and transportation. In India, a major problem we face is evacuation of coal, because many of these coal mines are at places which are inaccessible. But coal has to be evacuated; so, we are in touch with the Railways. In this entire process, technology will play a crucial role. IT applications will also play an important role in tracking our trucks. GPS is already being used in a number of coalfields to track whether these trucks are reaching where those were headed for. Even for weighing and detecting coal pilferage, lots of technology is on play, including CCTV cameras.
Your office is said to be having fewer files compared to other departments. To what extent you use IT in your office and what difference does it make to productivity?
We have started using IT applications in our office, so that if any information has to be moved or shared with somebody without any problem. We have decided is that if we need some structural information periodically, then even that information would be posted on a portal, instead of being forwarded electronically or otherwise.
For instructional information, emails are used. In both cases, however, there will be no movement of physical files, and in case of structural information, even email will not be sent. This move has already eliminated a large number of files. So, now only those files come to me where decisions are to be taken. So, this way, IT can revolutionise the way we govern and function.
Business process re-engineering is required before you implement IT. How do you see that happening in Coal ministry?
There are some places where you don’t need to do business process reengineering before using IT. This is clear from the example of information sharing that I just talked about. There are situations where process is involved and where we should first go with re-engineering, but it is no rule as such. Many a time, while using IT, you discover that the process can be re-engineered!
How do you see the role of private sector in the new coal policy?
Private sector is already involved in the coal-related activities. The limitation that we had and still have is the end use stipulation of coal taken out by the private entity (they are allowed to take out at some places). So, it is not that private sector was not involved in the excavation of coal.
They were already there, but the mandate was that they would have to use it only for a purpose specified by them. Now, through a new ordinance-based legislation, the government can decide to allow excavation of coal for commercial use, which is without any definition of end use. But we have not taken any concrete decision in this regard, as much would depend on the outcome of the Supreme Court’s decision on the 74 blocks under question.
When do you expect real action for allocation of coal blocks?
We have clear-cut timelines: the tender will be floated by 22nd of December and the allocation of blocks will be done by 16th of March. On the other hand, from 1st of April, the 42 cancelled coal mines will resume operations as per the Supreme Court order. We are working according to the timelines. So far, everything has happened smoothly, and as for the future, let’s keep the fingers crossed.
We are preparing a strategy paper for increasing coal production by Coal India from the present 160 million tonnes to 1 billion tonne by 2019… It will include a lot of technological interventions, not only in excavation of coal but also its handling and transportation
Is it not an irony that in spite of having plenty of coal reserves, India is still importing coal?
It is indeed ironical; we are sitting on huge coal reserves and still importing about 180 million tonnes annually. That is the reason we are working on a strategy to increase the production of Coal India by a billion tonnes, and maybe, another billion tonnes coming from the private sector will make us fully self-sufficient by 2019…we have the potential to do that. We are working on a two-fold strategy: one is to see how Coal India can increase the production and second is how the private sector can emulate that model.
So, you intend to shift some load from the Coal India shoulders?
No, there will be no load shedding; instead, the load will be increasing. At present, Coal India is producing 160 million tonnes and now we are talking about only 1 billion tonnes from them.
Why do you rely so much on the public sector units when there are examples to show that these PSUs are already stretched?
Firstly, Coal India is not stretched; actually, it needs to be stretched; secondly, since Coal India is excavating coal since long, they have that expertise which needs to be exploited further; and thirdly, private sector alone is not going to solve the problem of coal in India. So, both public and private sector have to work together because the demand for coal is high. Hence, Coal India has to ramp up its production and the private sector has to be brought in for additional expertise.
How will you deal with the issue of delays in environmental and forest clearances, which hinder coal production?
Steps are being taken to tackle this issue. I am extensively using the Project Monitoring Group (PMG) portal for the clearances. Now, we already have various projects on the portal. Around 100 or more projects related coal mine have been added to the portal ever since I moved in.
As the head of PMG, I will continue discussions with the state governments to grant clearances. I have got positive responses from key officials and Chief Ministers of some states, as they also understand the importance of coal. Some states have even started granting clearances.
Do you think that big Coal India subsidiaries like Mahanadi Coalfields Limited are working efficiently?
What matters most is efficiency of an entity and not the size. I must confess that I was very impressed with the way Mahanadi Coalfields Limited is doing its job…it is functioning professionally. But, there is always room for improvement. I think the core competencies cultivated in Mahanadi Coalfields Limited should be further improved.
How would the coal sector benefit from Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India?
IT applications can provide sophisticated monitoring systems to plug the loopholes that exist in entire value chain. Activities like mining, coal movement, production, etc., can be monitored more efficiently and smoothly. Thus, Digital India programme will help us bring efficiency and improvement in the coal sector.
Do you think that coal shortage in the country will pose a challenge in the days ahead?
Coal shortage is a challenge, as it can hamper the growth of the country. We need to address this issue quickly, as coal plays a crucial role in the development process and meeting the energy requirements. Hence, we are working on ramping up the domestic coal production.