“In 2014, both coal and power sector were faced with crisis. It needs to be examined why and how coal came out of the mess but power sector continues to languish.”
All governments face problems. Perhaps one of the reasons for existence of governments are such problems, though they may themselves be responsible for creating a few of them. However, analyses of the problems and the issues and their resolution will reveal a trend. An understanding of how and why some of the issues were resolved, and those that weren’t, will help evolve an approach to resolve most of the issues. And, it is by resolving such issues that things can be made-to-happen.
Coal sector was in a mess in 2013. Anything that could have gone wrong had gone wrong. There was a crisis at hand. Despite sitting on an estimated reserve of 300 billion tonnes of coal and despite the annual demand being just 800 million, coal production was woefully short of the demand. The country was importing 25 percent of its requirement. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court cancelled all the coal blocks allocated since 1990s on the basis CAG Report. (A lot has already been said and written about the havoc that such a faulty report caused to the decision-making process). These mines were contributing around 90 million tonnes to domestic production. The coal mafias were having a field day on account of these shortages
To say that there was a crisis in coal sector 2014 would be an understatement. It was generally believed that the so called “coal scam”, arising out of the faulty allocation of the coal blocks, was the real problem. Hence, all the focus initially was on evolving a transparent process of coal block allocation. As this was being done, the team at the Coal Ministry looked at the real problem, the cause of this ‘scam’. It wasn’t far to be seen. It soon became evident that the so called ‘scam’ arose out of shortages. The next step was to fathom the reasons for such shortages when there was so much coal available in the country. While analysing these causes, it emerged that coal production depended on a number of factors but it was primarily a function of
1. Availability of land
2. Environment and forest clearance as most of the reserves were in forested areas
3. Evacuation of coal
The next step was to attend to these issues. How could availability of land be expedited? How could environment forest clearances be fast-tracked? And, how to procure more rakes from the Railways?
It was clear that most of the action relating to first two issues was to be taken by the State Governments. Hence, a strategy was devised for intensive interaction with the States. As a part of the strategy, it was decided not to convene any meeting with the States in Delhi. Team comprising senior officers, including the Secretary, travelled to each State where Coal India was to mine coal. (Incidentally, most of the coal bearing States were ruled by parties that were opposed to the one ruling at the Centre). A collaborative approach was adopted taking into account the sensitivities of each State. There was no attempt to ride a rough shod. A value proposition was conveyed to the States about the benefit that would accrue to them if mining was expedited. Going down to States worked as interaction could be held with Collectors who were responsible for land acquisition and with local forest officials that were responsible for processing papers relating to environment and forest clearances. This approach worked. During the year 2014-16, more than 5000 hectares of land was acquired and forest and environment clearances were obtained for more than 3000 hectares. This resulted in a record incremental production of 34 million tonnes of coal that was more than the cumulative increase during the past four years. During the subsequent year, 2015-16, coal production increased further by 44 million tonnes. Coal shortages were now a thing of the past. No power plant was now critical for want of coal and the idea of even exporting coal to Bangladesh was explored. Constant interaction with the Railways helped in evacuating this record production of coal.
Unfortunately, in the context of many problems that beset the country, we refuse even to acknowledge the existence of a problem. How can we resolve an issue that we believe or want everyone to believe that it does not exist? Hence, the first step to resolve an issue is to admit the existence of an issue or a problem. By pushing a problem under the carpet makes it even worse over a period of time. The next step is not merely to scratch the surface but to go deep down to understand the real cause of the problem. This will help evolve a realistic strategy not only to find a solution but also to implement it on the ground. It would not merely require expertise but a clear understanding of the ground reality. This is possible only with intensive interaction with the stake holders. All solutions are not available in Delhi. The officers will have to travel down to the states and work out the strategy in consultation with the stake holders so that there is greater ownership when it comes to implementation of the strategy. Ayushman Bharat has very successfully demonstrated this and there is so much to learn from this success story. What is equally important is the need to convey a value proposition to the stake holders. Once this happens and the stake holders appreciate what is in it for them, they will provide whole hearted support. The Central Government doesn’t have to appear as a ‘boss’ monitoring the progress. The role should be of a facilitator.
And, finally, it would be counterproductive to claim credit for success when it has not actually happened by sighting reports to keep the ‘powers-that-be’ happy. Road shows and publicity can be delusionary. There is no point in talking when you haven’t actually walked. Let the walking itself do the talking.