Union minister Pralhad Joshi on Sunday said the Centre will stop the "substitutable import" of coal in the next three to four years and can go for auction of 100 fully explored blocks.
The statement assumes significance in view of recent developments in the sector where the government recently brought an ordinance to amend laws to open up coal mining to firms other than those in the steel and power sectors, removing restrictions on end-use of the fuel.
Terming the promulgation of the ordinance as "one of the major reforms", the coal minister in an interview to PTI said that "whatever the substitutable shortfall is there...we want to achieve it in the coming three-four years. That may be around 2023-24. We want to stop the substitutable import of the coal".
The Cabinet recently approved promulgation of Mineral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 to amend Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation ) Act 1957 and Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Act 2015.
"In between also there were some other problems. CMSP Act, end-user restriction. So many things were there. All these things we have removed now," the minister explained.
Stating that promulgation of the Ordinance has been welcomed by the sector, he said the government is seeking comments on draft rules for coal mines auction which is in the public domain.
"Now question is about framing rules and that we have kept it in public domain...We want to make it investor friendly... After this formation of rules and after all these things, we want to market in a such way in the world that now things have become easy...you come and do the business," the minister added.
"I can say today as on date around 100 new greenfield blocks fully explored coal blocks are with us. Fully explored blocks 100 greenfield blocks are with us now. That we can go for auction immediately," the minister said adding that the sale of the blocks will be in a phased manner.
When asked about the number of blocks that would go under the hammer in the first phase, he said, "That I can't say right now as that is yet to be discussed, deliberated."
According to industry thinkers, the recent move in the coal sector is likely to create an efficient energy market and bring in more competition as well as reduce coal imports.
However, the move will put an end to Coal India's monopoly in the sector.
Allaying the fears in this regard, the minister said, "We are pushing and trying to strengthen Coal India so that they achieve their target (one billion tonnes) by 2023-24...We want that Coal India should do its job, do its job well...Remaining whatever is the gap of 400-500 million tonnes that will be taken care of by private people."
Coal India accounts for over 80 per cent of domestic coal output.
India imported 235.2 million tonnes of coal in 2018-19 valued at ₹1.7 lakh crore, Joshi had earlier said.