By Surojit Mahalanobis
It is better late than never. The news that the power minister Piyush Goyal has set up an inter-ministerial panel (IMC) to examine and move forward with effective allocation of the 214 coal blocks, after the Supreme Court’s recent order, is indeed acceptable. What is positive about the move is that the committee (IMC) would comprise engineers of power, steel, and mining sectors as well as legal experts from various ministries to lead the real action.
Historically, Indian ministers have picked first politicians and then professionals. They are famous, (or infamous?), for setting up countless advisory panels, and ending up into absolute messing. They seldom put active performers in panels to accomplish the required job. India needs today the active job-performers and no advisers.
To keep up to the Prime Minister’s mottos of ‘Make in India’, and ‘Zero Defect and Zero Effect’, the ministries should be more able to tune into instituting direct actions groups at jobs, and stop wasting time by engaging in fruitless debates. The people in the committees, who are expected to take direct actions for addressing the damages already caused in the systems — such as in the coal block allocations, university functioning, skills training outreach – must be those experts who understand the enormity of the tasks.
All advanced countries do the same. All controversies erupting in the technical areas of life in advanced countries — such as electricity, mining, post-mining greening, large-scale afforestation, water management, sewage management, pollution control, research and development, agriculture, horticulture, ecology, etc, — are handled by the professional experts armed with adequate degrees or years-old real-time skills and job experiences. Lay functionaries must not force the committees to issue unpractical diktats, or use them to build up personal CVs.
The coal sector in India has long been subject of controversies, all due to unsound distribution policies and cultures of political rewards. Energy is the central issue for India in its bid to emerge as the manufacturing hub of the world. It is the basic ingredient of any produce. If such a vital ingredient of manufacturing is messed up while acquiring, half the battle for development is lost. We all know this. What we do not know is how world engineers move much faster at their assigned jobs by sorting out systems and processes for the assigned jobs to accomplish.
In Japan, which is more competent than the USA and China in many areas, majority of national development tasks are accomplished by the Union of Japanese Engineers and Scientists (JUSE) with strong focus on quality.
In China, the corporate sector is run by experts, engineers and scientists trained by the ASSQ’s sigma-based skills-based education on the job. Skills education there is as fundamental as in South Korea. According to an estimate, over 95 per cent of workforce in these countries are skilled, even to their core life-expectant habits.
Though much of Chinese corporate cultures are not transparent like in democratic countries, it is not difficult to understand that the government in China has placed systems and processes under rigid observance, value them as more important than politics.
In post-USSR Russia, systems and processes are at a premium for corporate functioning – especially in the domains of manufacturing and energy generation.
In the United States, besides ASQ, there are institutions like project management Institute (PMI), America Chemical Society (ACS), American Supplier Institute (ASI), which educate, train, and try newer hands into basic skills of jobs at engineering, mining, and scientific sustenance. Skills education is prioritised in the United States over university degrees.
India needs to catch up with the advanced world by all means. Indian Energy ministries should look much beyond the immediate, and envision a culture of skilled professionalism at grassroots of their decisions. A number of areas need to be looked at, hard:
- a) Politics of land acquiring for mining coal
- b) Politics of greening in the areas adjacent to mines
- c) Coal mafia, deeply entrenched in the state and well-connected
- d) Deployment of skilled workforce after adequate training
- e) Drawing the workforce for skills education from the grassroots of population and the unemployed
- f) Refuse the delinquent companies, which were earlier allocated, right to own coal blocks
- g) Acquire the state-of-the-art machines for mining
- h) Draw mining experts from abroad and train Indian workforce under their guidance
- i) Modernise and overhaul the archaic mining industry
- j) Create popular awareness about the necessity and utility of mining domestic reserves of coal.
Most of the 214 cancelled coal blocks have already incurred an investment of over Rs 6.87 lakh crore. Indian national banks are already uncertain about retrieving Rs 60,000 crore of advances they made to the delinquent companies.
From the government’s angle, the current account deficit (CAD) is likely to grow up not only due to the locked-up Indian banks’ investments in these blocks, but also for importing the quality coal from Australia, Mozambique, Indonesia and other counties. Even as the RBI has envisioned it to be marginally burdensome, the CAD would be managed only after the production of coal started.
But there is no solution identified as yet about how to readdress the locked up investments of private sector investments. The companies which have invested would have either to bear the losses irretrievably, or have to re-work their processes to generate additional finances to compensate the losses. This reworking to generate new revenues would not likely to be possible from the cancelled blocks, as the committee would ideally look beyond these companies and refuse each one of them the right to own any of these. There does not seem to be any win-win situation for these 214 companies.
Resuming production is possible, however, if the processes are started professionally by putting geologists, engineers and miners at the helm. For this Coal Authority is the natural expectation. A dedicated authority headed and manned by professional engineers and geological scientists alone can salvage the situation created by a slew of delinquent business people who owned the blocks and messed up the show.
The government must have to be ruthless about effectively harnessing energy resources with which India is endowed with. There cannot be any compromise with this goal of governance.