New Delhi: Yogendra Saw, member of legislative assembly from the Congress party and agriculture minister in the Jharkhand government, has alleged that state-owned NTPC Ltd is aiding Maoist groups through its contractors and has demanded an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

NTPC through middlemen wants to grab land. They consider me an enemy," Saw said in a phone interview. “I want this issue to be investigated by CBI."

This comes at a time when India’s largest power generation utility is unable to mine coal from its $5.5 billion (around 33,000 crore) Pakri-Barwadih field, which forms a part of Saw’s Barkagaon constituency in Jharkhand.

Many of India’s mineral resources are located in remote forests. Poverty, illiteracy and exploitation of labour are rife in these areas, which form the pocket boroughs of Maoists. The insurgency is particularly strong in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharashtra.

India’s single largest coal consumer alerted the Union government earlier that a “private group" is carrying out the illegal mining and requested the district commissioner of Hazaribagh, in which the block is located, to take action to stop it, Mint reported on 9 January.

Many of India’s coal mines are located in forests. Criminal gangs active in these parts extract coal illegally and steal the mined fuel from government warehouses. Pay-offs were a way of life for firms who had to set up businesses in Maoist- or terrorism-affected areas.

Queries emailed to NTPC’s spokesperson regarding Saw’s allegations 24 March remained unanswered.

A power ministry official, requesting anonymity, refuted Saw’s allegations and said, “He is raising a bogey".

NTPC had earlier planned to start mining from the block awarded in October 2004 by end-2007. The utility has spent 1,082 crore on the project, which has been awarded to Australia’s Thiess Pty Ltd to develop and operate.

Saw, who also holds the housing and sugar cane development portfolio in the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress government, has been raising the issue with the Union government.

“Around 32 villages and 25,000 families to be affected/displaced due to implementation of these coal mining project," Saw wrote in a 25 December letter to rural development minister Jairam Ramesh. “In view of the above, I bring to your kind notice that NTPC (is) offering very less compensation and R&R (relocation and rehabilitation) packages because NTPC has been not offering permanent employment like Coal India Ltd." Mint has seen a copy of the letter.

Ramesh didn’t respond to phone calls and to a message left on his cellphone. In a text message on 25 March, Ramesh said, “I am in a meeting."

The grievances articulated by Saw include “ 150 crore requisitions submitted in month of March 2013, but administrative approvals not communicated to PAP’s (project affected people) by NTPC".

NTPC and Union government officials allege that Saw is responsible for the illegal extraction and sale of coal from the Pakri-Barwadih block. Saw denied the allegations. The officials declined to be named.

“The project has been held to ransom by Yogendra Saw. All works have stopped, including on the railway corridor for coal evacuation. Everyone in the government is aware of the issue," an NTPC executive said.

The NTPC spokesperson didn’t respond to questions emailed on 24 March on this matter. The utility has the capacity to generate 43,019 megawatts (MW) of electricity with 17 coal-fuelled projects. The demand for coal will increase with the utility setting a target of becoming a 128,000MW power producer by 2032. Of this, 56%, or 71,680MW, will be coal-based.

“The work has stopped on the project and all attempts to resolve the issue with Yogendra Saw has yet to yield results," said the power ministry official cited earlier.

“It is not an administrative problem, but a political one and has to be resolved at the appropriate political levels," said another power ministry official.

The Jharkhand government has recently been buffeted by legislators shifting allegiance to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the run-up to the 16th Lok Sabha elections. This has left the state government with a slender majority.

The Pakri-Barwadih coalfield has exploitable reserves of 503.39 million tonnes (mt) and is one of the six captive coalfields allotted to NTPC. Delays in securing mandatory clearances have stalled mining of the blocks by NTPC, which plans to meet about 20% of its coal requirements from captive mines by 2017.

Demand for the fuel in the country is expected to grow from 649 mt per year now to 730 mt in 2016-17. Of India’s current capacity of 237,743MW, around 59% is fuelled by coal. NTPC has 18% share of India’s installed power generation capacity.

Besides the Pakri-Barwadih coal block, NTPC has secured five other mines: Chatti-Bariatu (Jharkhand, 151.8 mt), Chatti-Bariatu South (Jharkhand, 242.28 mt), Kerandari (Jharkhand, 142.01 mt), Dulanga (Odisha, 152 mt) and Talaipalli (Chhattisgarh, 843.69 mt).

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