If you keep repeating something people might finally start believing you, one day, someday.
Or so seems to go the logic in the Congress Party.
The Party has gone on and on about how the loss numbers regarding the various scams put out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India are largely fictional.
This effort has been led by P Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Digvijay Singh upto this point. They have questioned the Rs 1.76 lakh crore loss estimated in the 2G scam and the Rs 1.86 lakh crore estimated in the coalgate scam. They have tried to tell the nation that there has been no loss. And the numbers put out by CAG are largely fictional.
Digvijay Singh, the senior most General Secretary of the Party has even alleged that Vinod Rai, the outgoing CAG, has political ambitions and that’s why he been trying to shame the government.
The latest missive in this direction has come from Manish Tewari, the information and broadcasting minister, and one of the chief trouble shooters of the Congress Party. He has remarked that “We’ve seen this great debate around certain hugely exaggerated and mythical numbers which have been thrown in public debate by certain very responsible institutions and functionaries… I think when institutions start indulging in fiction writing that is the greatest disservice that can possibly be done to an issue.”
What caused this outburst was an interview that the outgoing CAG Rai gave to The Times of India. In this interview he was asked “what was his reaction when Kapil Sibal came with the zero loss theory?” “I felt sorry for them. I have never said this before, but I actually felt sorry for them,” said Rai. In the same interview Rai denied having any political ambitions whatsoever. “Whenever this question has been put to me, I have neither said ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. If I say I will not join, you will not believe me. If I say I will join, you will say “bola tha na“. But I am making it clear today. I have been apolitical all my life. Now, in the 65-years plus age why should I change?” said Rai.
It is important to clarify here that estimates made CAG on the losses are not mythical at all, as Tewari and others of his ilk would like us to believe. Lets try and understand this in case of what is now known as the Coalgate scam, by starting at the very beginning.
The Coal Mines(Nationalisation) Act was amended with effect from June 9, 1993. This allowed the government to give away coal blocks for free both to private sector as well as public sector companies. This was done largely on account of the inability of Coal India Ltd (CIL), which produces most of India’s coal, to produce enough coal.
The coal production in 1993-94 was 246.04 million tonnes, up by 3.3% from the previous year. This rate was not going to increase anytime soon as newer projects had been hit by delays and cost over-runs, as still often happens in India. As the Economic Survey of 1994-95 pointed out “As on December 31, 1994, out of 71 projects under implementation in the coal sector, 22 projects are bedevilled by time and cost over-runs. On an average, the time over-run per project is about 38 months. There is urgent need to improve project implementation in the coal sector.”
Hence, to encourage more production of coal, the Coal Mines Act was amended with the view of helping at least those companies which used coal as a raw material. As the Economic Survey pointed out “In order to encourage private sector investment in the coal sector, the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973, was amended with effect from June 9, 1993, for operation of captive coal mines by companies engaged in the production of iron and steel, power generation and washing of coal in the private sector.” Using this change in policy the government of India gave away 195 coal blocks for free between 1993 and 2011. What is interesting nonetheless is that prior to 2004,only 39 coal blocks were given away free to public sectors as well as private sector companies. The remaining blocks have been given away since 2004. The Congress led UPA government has been in power since May 22, 2004.
So this shows clearly that around 80% of the coal blocks were given away for free only after the Congress Party led government came to power. What queers the pitch further is the fact that most of these blocks were given away during the period between 2006 and 2009 when the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also happened to the coal minister.
When we measure the coal blocks given away for free in terms of their geological reserves, the results get skewed further. The total geological reserves given away for free between 1993 and 2011 was 44,802.9 million tonnes. Of this nearly 41,235.9 million tonnes was given away between 2004 and 2011. As pointed out earlier, for most of this period (except for a period of around 5 months in 2004) the Congress led UPA government has been in power. During the period 1993-96, when the Congress government led by PV Narsimha Rao was in power, nine coal blocks with geological reserves of 917.7 million tonnes were given away for free. Hence, the Congress Party was directly involved in giving away 42,153.6 million tonnes of coal, or around 94% of the total geological reserves.
So Coalgate has largely been a Congress scam. The CAG in its report tried to put a number to the losses on account of the government giving away these blocks for free. There were a number of assumptions made while calculating these losses. First and foremost blocks given to government companies for free were not taken into consideration. And secondly, only open cast mines were taken into account while calculating losses, underground mines were ignored. If these mines were taken into account the loss number would have been greater than Rs 1.86 lakh crore.
The extractable reserves from the coal blocks considered for the calculation came to be at 6282.5million tonnes. The total amount of coal in a block is referred to as geological reserve. But not all of it can be extracted. Open cast mining of coal typically goes to a depth of around 250 metres below the ground whereas underground mining goes to a depth of around 600-700 metres. Beyond this, it is difficult to extract coal.
So 6282.5 million tonnes was the amount of coal that was given away for free. This coal could have been sold at a certain price. Using the prices at which CIL, which produces most of India’s coal, sold coal, CAG arrived at an average price of Rs 1,028.42 per tonne of coal.
There is a certain cost in producing this coal. The average cost of production was calculated to be at Rs 583.01 per tonne using CIL data. Over and above this there was a financing cost of Rs 150 per tonne that was assumed. This meant a profit of Rs Rs 295.41 per tonne of coal (Rs 1,028.42 – Rs 583.01 – Rs 150) had been let go off. Hence the government had lost Rs 295.41 for every tonne of coal that it gave away for free. The total losses were thus estimated to be at Rs 1,85,591.33 crore (Rs 295.41 x 6,282.5 million tonnes).
This loss figure comes with a disclaimer from CAG. “A part of this financial gain could have been tapped by the government by taking timely decision on competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks,” the CAG report points out.
One criticism of this calculation has been that CAG did not take time value of money into account. All the extractable reserves of the mines considered couldn’t have been mined at once. They would be mined over a period of time. So that should have been taken into account and a present value of the losses should have been calculated. This point is raised by the CAG in its report as well. As the report points out “total extractable reserve of a coal block could be extracted over the lifetime of a block as per its mining plan. In the absence of future year wise quantity of coal extracted, sale price, cost price, financing cost etc pertaining to a coal block over its lifetime, audit has taken the currently available audited figures of CIL as reference values.”
But there are other points which clearly prove that CAG has been conservative in its calculations, like any good auditor would. While calculating losses on account of giving away coal blocks for free the CAG took into account the price at which CIL sells coal directly to companies it has an agreement with. This is the lowest price in the market. The price that CIL auctions through the e-auction route is higher. As the CAG points out in its report on an ultra mega power projects, the average price of coal sold by CIL through e-auctions in 2010-2011 was Rs 1,782 per tonne. If CAG had taken this price instead of the CIL price, then profit per tonne of coal would have stood at Rs 1,050 (Rs 1,782-Rs 583.01- Rs 150). The losses would have then stood at Rs 6.6 lakh crore.
If the price of imported coal would have been taken into account, losses would have been even higher. The average price of imported coal in November 2009 was Rs 2,874 per tonne (calculated by the CAG based on NTPC data).
If CAG had taken this price, the profit per tonne would have been Rs 2,142 (Rs 2,874 – Rs 583.01 – Rs 150) and the losses would have been Rs 13.5 lakh crore. The CAG did not take into account these prices. It took into account the lowest price of Rs 1,028.42 per tonne, which was the average Coal India price, like a conservative auditor would.
So here is my humble request to Congress leaders like Manish Tewari who have been saying that the various CAG reports have been “indulging in fiction”. Please read these reports. They are documents which have been written with great care and thorough research. The Congress Party may not be agree with the losses for obvious reasons but it cannot dismiss them totally. They can also question the methodology and the quantum of the loss as well. But saying that there has been no loss, makes them look a tad stupid in the eyes of urban Indians, who are the ones majorly concerned with such issues.
In fact Vinod Rai in the interview summarised the situation very well when he said “in my report I have said that there has been loss and that cannot be denied. The quantum of loss can be debated. I told them your own agency, CBI, has said there was a loss of Rs 30,000 crore.”
Now only if Manish Tewari wasn’t so much in love with his voice…
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on May 25,2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
On May 7, earlier this month, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India presented to the Parliament a Performance Audit of Storage Management and Movement of Food Grains in Food Corporation of India.
This report has gone largely unreported in the media, given that it does not contain any big number running into lakhs of crore like a few previous reports of the CAG did. But it clearly explains why the government of India is in no position to introduce the right to food security. And if it does that, it will be a disaster.
Currently the government declares a minimum support price(MSP) for wheat and rice paddy, and buys them directly from the farmers using the services of the Food Corporation of India(FCI) as well as state government agencies. FCI and other agencies are expected to buy all the rice and wheat that lands up at the government mandis.
The data put out by CAG clearly shows that the procurement of wheat and rice by the government has gone up dramatically since 2006-2007 (i.e. the period between April 1, 2006 and March 31, 2007). In 2006-2007, 75.8 million tonnes of wheat was produced by the Indian farmers. Of this nearly 18% landed up with FCI and the state government agencies. In 2011-2012 (i.e. the period between April 1, 2011, and March 31, 2012), the wheat produce had shot up 93.9 million tonnes. Of this nearly 35% landed up with the FCI and state government agencies.
When it comes to rice the situation is even more pronounced. In 2006-2007, the total rice production was at 93.4 million tonnes. Of this 32% landed up with FCI and other state government agencies. In 2011-2012, the rice produce was at 104.3 million tonnes. Of this a whopping 54% landed up with FCI and other state government agencies.
What this tells us is that more and more rice and wheat is landing up with the government. This is primarily on account of the fact that minimum support price has consistently been raised over the last few years, encouraging the farmers to sell directly to the government.
And this has done in a totally random manner. As the report points out “ No specific norm was followed for fixing of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) over the cost of production. Resultantly, it was observed the margin of MSP fixed over the cost of production varied between 29 per cent and 66 per cent in case of wheat, and 14 per cent and 50 per cent in case of paddy during the period 2006-2007 to 2011-2012.”
Typically MSP needs to be fixed depending on the rates recommended by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), which is a part of the Ministry of Agriculture. While determining the MSP, CACP takes into account, the cost of production, domestic and international market prices, stock position, prices fixed in previous years etc. So even though there is a robust method for determining the MSP at which the government of India should buy rice and wheat from farmers, that is not being followed.
Also as more and more rice and wheat lands up with the government, there is less of it available in the open market. In 2006-2007, 63.3 million tonnes of rice landed in the open market. By 2011-2012, this had fallen by a huge 23.6% to 48.3 million tonnes. The same is true about about wheat as well, though the drop is not as pronounced as it is in the case of rice. In 2006-2007, the total amount of wheat in the open market stood at 62.1 million tonnes. By 2011-2012, this had dropped to 61.4 million tonnes.
And that explains the high cereal inflation of 16.65% in April, 2013. If food security becomes a right, the government will need to buy more rice and wheat than it currently is, and that will mean lesser amount of rice and wheat available in the open market as has been the case over the last few years. This will push up their price further.
The conspiracy theory here is that if food security bill is passed (or even brought in through an ordinance) a lot more rice and wheat will land up in the open market and thus slowdown cereal inflation. The government plans to use its rotten public distribution system to distribute rice and wheat, and that means that a lot of it will be sold in black and end up in the open market. This is expected to drive down the price of rice and wheat. And this for all we know this might very well turn out to be true.
Once FCI and other state government agencies have procured the wheat and rice it needs to be stored. The CAG has also audited the total storage capacity of FCI (its own as well as hired) over the years.
As on March 31, 2007, the total storage capacity of FCI stood at 25.2 million tonnes. The total stock of food grains(i.e. both rice and wheat) stored in the central pool as on June 1, 2007, stood at 25.9 million tonnes. So storage capacity more or less matched the total amount of food grains stock. The total stock of food grains that is held by the FCI, state governments and their agencies, is referred to as the central pool.
But the situation has changed dramatically since then. As on June 1, 2012 (on June 1, the central pool stock is at its peak) the total amount of food grains in the central pool stood at 82.4 million tonnes. Some of this grain was distributed to the states which do not produce enough rice and wheat of their own. After this the total amount of food grains stock stood at 66.8 million tonnes.
In comparison the storage capacity was at 33.6 million tonnes. This meant that there was a gap of 33.2 million tonnes. So nearly 50% of the food grains remaining in stock did not have any storage space.
As the CAG report mildly puts it “the available storage space operated by FCI was largely inadequate”. Given this lack of storage space FCI could not take over the wheat that had been procured by various state government agencies on its behalf. This also explains to a large extent why newspapers regularly print photographs of rice and wheat rotting in the open after it has been procured by the government.
So what does this mean in terms of the right to food security? As more and more rice and wheat is bought by the government, a large amount of it will rot in the open given that FCI does not have enough storage space. Of course, the FCI can build/hire new storage space. But its past record of doing the same is simply abysmal.
As the CAG report points out “The total food grains stock in the Central Pool recorded an increase of 45.8 million tonnes between 2006-2007 and 2011-2012; FCI increased its storage space through hiring or owned space only to extent of 8.4 million tonnes (18 per cent) which was not commensurate with increase in food grains stock level. It owned storage capacity increased by mere 0.4 million tonnes during the period.”
What this means is that while FCI managed to create a storage capacity of 0.4 million tonnes on its own, the total food grains in stock went up by more than 100 times to 45.8 million tonnes. Even if we take total increase in storage capacity of FCI, the increase in food grains stock was almost 5 and a half times.
So what does this tell us? The FCI has not been able to create storage capacity. And it cannot create storage capacity in a hurry in the time to come. Given that, where will all the rice and wheat that will be bought by the government to fulfil the right to food security, be stored? Why don’t the jholawalas led by Amartya Sen give us an answer for that? Imagine the humongous amount of rice and wheat that will rot throughout the country after it has been acquired by the government. What will be the social and economic implications of that?
FCI procures most of the rice and wheat in the states of Punjab and Haryana. As the CAG report points out “During the period 2006-2007 to 2011-2012, about 75 per cent of stocks were moved by ex- North as procurement was largely concentrated in the North and the remaining 25 per cent was moved from other procuring states of Andhra Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Odisha, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. During the six year period, movement of stocks by rail constituted about 92 per cent and the remaining 8 per cent was moved by road.”
Hence, rice and wheat is moved from states which produce more than what is required for consumption and distribution within the state, to states which do not produce enough. This movement is largely carried through Railways. Every month FCI prepares a movement plan in terms of railway rakes to be dispatched to various destinations throughout the country. The trouble is that there is a shortage of railway rakes. In 2006-2007 this shortage was 10%. In 2009-2010 it increased to 12%. And by 2011-2012 this had shot up to 17%.
This shortage of rakes needs to be addressed immediately. If, right to food security comes in, this shortage is likely to go up, given that more food grains will have to be moved across the country.
These are some of the basic issues that the CAG report on FCI points out.
The jholawalas are not bothered about this. They just want the right to food security bill to be introduced and the rest of it will sort itself out as we go along is the argument that they are making.
But anyone who has some understanding of this country and the way it works, knows that nothing will sort itself out. Things will get bad, before they get worse.
Let me conclude this piece with one my favourite Urdu couplets:
Na Khuda hi mila, na visaal-e-sanam/Na udhar kay rahay, na idhar kay rahe
(I found neither faith, nor union with my lover/And now I belong neither there nor here).
That’s the way we seem to be headed when it comes to right to food security.
The article was originally published on www.firstpost.com on May 14, 2013
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)
The urdu poet Bashir Badr once wrote “dil ki duniya purani dilli hai, job hi guzra hai usne loota hai.” (Loosely translated which means that the heart’s world is like Old Delhi, whoever has passed through has looted it).
The politicians who run the current United Progressive Alliance (UPA) operate out of New Delhi, and like the chieftains of the yore who robbed Old Delhi, they continue to rob New Delhi and in the process India.
One such robber politician is A Raja who sold 122 telecom licenses at Rs 9,200 crore in 2008, a price which was significantly lower than the price the government could have got if it had auctioned the licenses. The Comptroller and Auditor General(CAG) made four estimates of the losses on account of this. These losses worked out to Rs 57,666 crore, Rs 67,364 crore, Rs 69,626 crore and Rs 1,76,645 crore.
As is wont in such cases the media ran with the highest figure and put the losses on account of shenanigans of Raja at Rs 1,76,000 crore. But even a loss of Rs 57,666 crore was no small number.
The Supreme Court canceled these licenses. The government recently tried to auction these licenses again. Its aim was to raise Rs 40,000 crore from these auctions. It managed to raise only Rs 9,407 crore.
This prompted Manish Tewari the newly appointed minister for Information and Broadcasting to ask “Mr CAG, where is the Rs 1.76 lakh crore?”
Tewari went on to add that “I think it is time for some serious introspection. It’s time the CAG introspects on his processes and it is high time that the BJP and some of the other opposition parties, which had made this their holy-grail and swansong of politics over the last two years, should publicly apologise.”
The comment is along the lines of Kapil Sibal’s famous zero loss theory on the CAG’s estimates of the losses to the government on account of Raja’s shenanigans. “The logic underlying this estimate is completely flawed. Government policy is formulated with a view to maximising public welfare, and not merely to maximise Government revenues. The pricing of different natural resources is often done in a manner that meets this objective,” Sibal had said justifying the decision of the government to sell telecom licenses in 2008 at the same price as they had sold in 2001. “No loss at all. Zero is the loss…It (the calculation made by CAG) has embarrassed the government, it has embarrassed the nation.”” Sibal declared.
But how does the government explain the fact that Unitech, a company which got the license in 2008, went around and sold 60% of its stake to Telenor for Rs 6,120 crore even before it had constructed a single tower to launch a mobile phone service. It had paid only Rs 1651 crore for the telecom licenses. Shouldn’t this money have realistically flown into government coffers?
So what can safely be said was that Sibal was essentially trying to complicate the issue in order to confuse the nation. As a recent profile on Sibal in the The Carvan magazine puts it “There was a method to Sibal’s madness. This was his opening statement before the court of public opinion, and he had unquestionably taken the strongest possible line in his client’s defence. That few seemed to believe him was beside the point. His audacity had muddied the waters just enough to introduce doubts in what had looked like an open-and-shut case, demonstrating that a sufficiently strenuous and elaborate defence of the indefensible could perhaps make it defensible after all.”
Manish Tewari is working along similar lines and trying to complicate the issue or as The Caravan puts it in Sibal’s case “muddle the water just enough”.
We need to understand a few things here to basically look through Tewari’s statement. CAG used various methods to arrive at the loss estimates that it did. For the estimate of Rs 1,76,645 crore, CAG used the prices that companies paid when the 3G licenses were auctioned in 2010. The logic being that if the telecom licenses had been auctioned in 2008 and companies had paid the same prices that they did for 3G licenses in 2010, the government could have made Rs 1,76,645 crore more than it actually did.
Similarly other ways were used to arrive at other loss estimates. Another loss estimate of Rs 69,626 crore was based on the price at which Unitech sold 60% of the stake in its telecom business to Telenor immediately after getting the telecom license in 2008.
So, yes, there was a loss to the government and the nation when A Raja sold off 122 telecom licenses for Rs 9,200 crore. There is no beating that irrespective of what Tewari now and Sibal earlier had to say.
Let’s come back to the recent telecom auction and the inability of the government to raise much money from it, something that prompted Tewari to ask “Mr CAG, where is the Rs 1.76 lakh crore?”
Just because the government couldn’t raise as much as it was expecting to from this auction does not mean that the way the government went around selling telecom licenses in 2008 was correct. Second, much has changed between 2008 and 2012. The finances of the Indian government are in a mess. Inflation and interest rates are high. And economic growth is stagnating. Hence, telecom companies are no longer in the mood to pay the high prices that they did for 3G spectrum in 2010. Also, if the government raised the kind of money that it did with the 3G auction in 2010, imagine the kind of money it could have raised had it decided to auction telecom licenses in 2008 when the financial crisis had not yet broken out, instead of giving them away on a first come first serve basis.
But Tewari is working along expected lines. He is a lawyer by qualification who was expected to muddle up things as a spokesperson for the Congress party. And he is working along similar lines after taking over as the minister for information and broadcasting, a post from which he can hope to effectively control opinion.
As Noam Chomsky, the world’s foremost living intellectual, points out in How the World Works “Ultimately, the governors, the rulers, can only rule if they control opinion…This is true of the most despotic societies and the most free… If the general population won’t accept things, the rulers are finished.”
In this day and age of the internet where it is very difficult to totally control opinion that is going around, the best a ruler can do is muddle the opinion and that is what Tewari is trying to do in this case.
Also having been in the party for too long Tewari has now tasted real power and is trying to do a Sibal. The Caravan in its recent profle of Sibal wrote “Among the country’s chattering classes, his innumerable television appearances and indefatigable zeal for defending the indefensible have made him a favourite target for mockery and derision—in which he typically appears as a caricature combining the worst qualities of lawyers, politicians and out-of-touch elites. But Sibal is well aware that his prominence within the party depends on these over-the-top performances, and it could be argued that no other politician has taken better advantage of the present age of around-the-clock television shoutfests and exaggerated sound-bites.”
This could have easily been written for Tewari as well.
The article originally appeared on www.firstpost.com on November 19, 2012.
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])
“Hum to doobe hain sanam, par tumko bhi le doobenge,” was a line often used in the Hindi movies of the sixties, seventies and eighties. This line now applies to the Congress party as it tries to divert the attention from its involvement in the coal-gate scam.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will now widen the scope of its inquiry into the coal-gate scam. The inquiry will now cover allocation of all coal blocks given away for free to private companies including state government entities since the policy was first initiated in 1993.
“The ongoing CBI inquiry covers 67 blocks allotted to private parties since 2004 when the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came to power,” reports the Business Standard. The CBI will now probe all the allocations made to private companies going back to 1993.
This means that the inquiry will now also look at allocations made to private companies before the Congress led United Progressive Alliance(UPA) came to power. “The probe will now cover the blocks given during the six-year tenure of the BJP-led NDA government, from 1998 to 2004, besides those allotted by the Congress government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao after 1993 and the United Front government from 1996 to 1998. Till now, the CBI was investigating private companies that got blocks between 2004 and 2009,” reports The Hindu.
This widening of the inquiry came on the basis of a reference made by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC). The reference made by the CVC was in response to a letter written by Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal drawing the attention of the commission to the concerns of seven MPs of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA). These MPs included Sandip Dikshit, Harish Chaudhary, Ravneet Singh and Raghuveer Singh Meena. In a letter written to the Coal Minister on September 5, 2012, the MPs said: “It appears that there were many cases of malpractice while allocating blocks between 1993 and 2004. All blocks allotted since 1993 should be investigated by the CBI, specially looking at systems through which state governments selected private companies whose names they forwarded to the government.”
While any investigation has to expose those who are guilty, it still does not change the fact that coal-gate has largely been a Congress scam. This is clearly pointed out by the numbers in the Provisional Coal Statistics 2011-12, put out by theCoal Controller’s Organisation, Ministry of Coal.
A total 195 coal blocks have been allocated between 1993 and 2011. Of these only 39 were allocated prior to 2004. Hence, only 80% of the coal blocks were allocated in the period prior to 2004. As we know the Congress led UPA has been in power since May 2004.
Things get even more interesting when we measure in terms of the geological reserves these coal blocks (i.e. the amount of coal) have. In fact, the total geological reserves of the coal blocks given away for free between 1993 and 2011 stands at 44802.9 million tonnes.
The coal blocksallocated between 2004 and 2011, the period during which the Congress led UPA has been in power, have geological reserves amounting to a total of 41235.9 million tonnes. This means that 92% of the total geological reserves were given for free during the period of 2004 and 2011. As mentioned earlier the Congress led UPA has been in power since May 2004.
To this we also need to add the coal blocks given away for free during the period 1993 and 1996 when the Congress government led by PV Narsimha Rao was in power. During this period nine blocks with geological reserves of 917.7million tonnes was given away for free. Hence, the Congress party was directly involved in giving away 42153.6 million tonnes or 94% of the total reserves for free.
These numbers include both private and government owned companies. The scope of the investigation as we know is limited to coal blocks given away for free to private companies. I couldn’t locate any data that gives the exact breakdown of the geological reserves of coal blocks allocated to private companies between 1993 and 2003, and then between 2004 and 2011. But the report put out by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India does give us some information on this front.
The total geological reserves of coal blocks given away to private companies (excluding ultra mega power projects) for free between 1993 and 2009 amounted to 17397.22 million tonnes. Of this, a total of 14060.34 million tonnes was allocated between 2006 and 2009, when the free giveaway of coal blocks was at its peak. Also, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also the Coal Minister for a large part of this period.
So around 81% of the the total geological reserves given to private companies was given between 2006 and 2009. We don’t have an exact breakdown for the earlier years. If we did the number would have been significantly higher.
What these numbers clearly tell us is that coal-gate is a Congress scam. There might have been corruption during periods of non-Congress rule and that cannot be denied. But as we saw chances are that as much as 94% of the total geological reserves were given away for free during periods of Congress rule.
Between 2004-2005 and 2008-2009 there was a rally on in global commodity prices as China expanded at breakneck speed gobbling up commodities from all over the world. Hence, the price of coal shot through the roof. The international price of coal was a little over $20 per metric tonne in mid 2003. It shot up to around $40 per metric tonne in mid 2005 and kept rising after that. Prices shot up to around $190 per tonne internationally in mid 2008. As the price of coal shot up, so did the number of coal blocks given away for free by the Congress led UPA government.
Given this, asking the CBI to investigate everything from 1993 onwards is just a step towards diluting the scope of the investigation and hoping to gather some political ammunition against the opposition parties .As the Business Standard reports “If the inquiry raises questions over allocations during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, it will provide the government with political ammunition to counter criticism by the Opposition.”
(The article originally appeared at www.firstpost.com on September 25,2012. http://www.firstpost.com/business/coalgate-is-94-percent-congress-scam-6-percent-others-467619.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He can be reached at [email protected])
The Great Fire of Rome started on July 19, 64AD, and burnt for six days. There are several varying accounts of it in history. One of the accounts suggests that Nero the king of Rome watched the fire destroy the city, from one of Rome’s many hills, while singing and playing the lyre, a stringed musical instrument.
India these days has its own Nero, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As the Congress led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government gets engulfed in the coal-gate scam, Manmohan Singh has largely been a silent spectator watching from the stands and seeing his government being engulfed by the coal fire.
And this is not the first time. Manmohan Singh has largely been a bystander at the helm of what is turning out to be probably the most corrupt government that India has ever seen. As TN Ninan, one of the most respected business editors in the country, recently wrote in the Business Standard “Corruption silenced telecom, it froze orders for defence equipment, it flared up over gas, and now it might black out the mining and power sectors. Manmohan Singh’s fatal flaw — his willingness to tolerate corruption all around him while keeping his own hands clean — has led us into a cul de sac , with the country able to neither tolerate rampant corruption nor root it out.”
Manmohan Singh like Nero before him has been watching as institutionalised corruption burns India. The biggest of these scams has been termed “coal-gate” by the Indian media. The Comptroller and the Auditor General (CAG) of India put the losses on account of this scam at a whopping Rs 1,86,000 crore.
The Planning Commission of India had estimated that the raw demand for coal in the year 2011-2012 will be at around 696 million tonnes. Of this 554 million tonnes was expected to be produced in the country by Coal India, Singareni Collieries and a host of other small companies. The remaining was expected to be met through imports.
Production of coal in 2011-2012 in million tonnes
Company Target Achievement
Coal India 447 436
Singareni Collieries 51 52
Others 56 52
Total 554 540
Source: Provisional Coal Statistics 2011-2012, Coal Controller Organisation, Ministry of Coal
As can be seen from the table above the actual production of coal at 540 million tonnes was a little less than the target. This was an increase of 1.3% over the previous year. Also since the actual demand for coal was significantly higher than the actual production, India had to import a lot of coal during the course of the year. Estimates made by the Coal Controller Organisation suggest that the country imported around 99million tonnes of coal in 2011-2012. The Planning Commission had expected around 137million tonnes to be imported in the year. So the Coal Controller’s estimate for coal imports is significantly lower than that. Also the increasing iport of coal is not a one off trend.
Coal Imports In Million tonnes In Rupees crore
1999-2000 19.7 3548
2000-2001 20.9 4053
2001-2002 20.5 4536
2002-2003 23.3 5028
2003-2004 21.7 5009
2004-2005 29 10266
2005-2006 38.6 14910
2006-2007 43.1 16689
2007-2008 49.8 20738
2008-2009 59 41341
2009-2010 73.3 39180
2010-2011 68.9 41550
2011-2012 98.9 45723*
*from April-Oct 2011
Source: Provisional Coal Statistics 2011-2012, Coal Control Organisation, Ministry of Coal
As the above table suggests India has been importing more and more coal since the turn of the century. A major reason for this has been the inability of the government owned Coal India, which is the largest producer of coal in the country, to increase production at a faster rate. Between 2004-2005 and 2011-2012 the company managed to increase its production by just 65million tonnes to 436million tonnes, an absolute increase of around 17.5%. The import of coal went up by a massive 241% to around 99 million tonnes, during the same period.
In fact, to its credit, the government of India realised the inability of the country to produce enough coal in the early 1990s. The Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act 1973 was amended with effect from June 9, 1973, to allow the government to give away coal blocks for free for captive use of coal. The Economic Survey for 1994-95 points out the reason behind the decision: “In order to encourage private sector investment in the coal sector, the Coal Mines (Nationalisation) Act, 1973 was amended with effect from June 9, 1993 for operation of captive coal mines by companies engaged in the production of iron and steel, power generation and washing of coal in the private sector.”
The total coal production in the country in 1993-94 stood at 246.04million tonnes having grown by 3.3% from 1992-93. The government understood that the production was not going to increase at a faster rate anytime soon because the newer projects were having time delays and cost overruns. As the 1994-95 economic survey put it “As on December 31,1994, out of 71 projects under implementation in the coal sector, 22 projects are bedeviled by time and cost over-runs. On an average, the time overrun per project is about 38months.There is urgent need to improve project implementation in the coal sector”.
The last few years
The idea of giving away coal blocks for free was to encourage investment in coal by companies which were dependant on coal as an input. This included companies producing power, iron and steel and cement. Since the government couldn’t produce enough coal to meet their needs, the companies would be allowed to produce coal to meet their own needs by giving them coal blocks for free.
While the policy to give away coal blocks has been in place since 1993, it didn’t really take off till the mid 2000s. Between 1993 and 2003, the government gave away 39 coal blocks free to private companies as well as government owned companies. 20 out of the 39 blocks were allocated in 2003.
In the year 2004, the government gave away four blocks. But these were big blocks with the total geological reserves of coal amounting to 2143.5million tonnes. After this the floodgates really opened up and between 2005 and 2009, 149 coal blocks were given away for free.
Year Number of mines Geological Reserves (in million tonns)
2004 4 2143.5
2005 21 3174.3
2006 47 14424.8
2007 45 10585.8
2008 21 3423.5
2009 15 6549.2
Source: Provisional Coal Statistics 2011-2012, Coal Control Organisation, Ministry of Coal
The above table makes for a very interesting reading. Between 2004 and 2009, the government of India gave away 153 coal blocks with geological reserves amounting to a little more than 40billion tonnes for free. Estimates made by the Geological Survey of India suggest that India has 293.5billon tonnes of coal reserves. This implies that the government gave away 13.7% of India’s coal reserves for free in a period of just five years.
The Congress led United Progressive Alliance was in power for most of this period with Manmohan Singh having been sworn in as the Prime Minister in May 2004. Interestingly, things reached their peak between 2006 and 2009, when the Prime Minister was also the Minister for Coal. During this period 128 coal blocks with geological reserves amounting to around 35billion tonnes were given away for free. But giving away the coal blocks for free did not solve any problem. As per the report prepared the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, as on March 31, 2011, eighty six of these blocks were supposed to produce around 73million tonnes of coal. Only 28 blocks have started production and their total production has been around 34.6million tonnes, as on March 31,2011.
The CAG and the losses
As is clearly explained above the Manmohan Singh led UPA government gave away around 14% of nation’s coal reserves away for free. Nevertheless, several senior leaders of the Congress party have told the nation that there have been no losses on account of the coal blocks being given away for free, primarily because very little coal was being produced from these blocks.
P Chidamabaram, the finance minister recently said “If coal is not mined, where is the loss? The loss will only occur if coal is sold at a certain price or undervalued.” Digvijaya Singh, a senior Congress leader targeted Vinod Rai, the Comptroller and Auditor General. Singh told The Indian Express that “the way the CAG is going, it is clear he(i.e. Vinod Rai) has political ambitions like TN Chaturvedi (a former CAG who later joined the BJP). He has been giving notional and fictional figures that have no relevance to facts. How has he computed these figures? He is talking through his hat.”
This is sheer nonsense to say the least and anyone who understands how CAG arrived at the loss number of Rs 1,86,000 crore wouldn’t say so.
The CAG reasonably assumed that the coal mined from the coal blocks given away for free could have been sold at a certain price in the market. Since the government gave away the blocks for free it lost that opportunity. This lost opportunity is what CAG has tried to quantify in terms of a number.
While calculating the loss the CAG did not take into account the coal blocks given to the government companies. Only blocks given to private companies were taken into account. Further only open cast mines were included in calculating the loss. Underground mines were not taken into account.
Also, the total coal available in a block is referred to as geological reserve. Due to several reasons including those of safely, the entire geological reserve cannot be mined. The portion that can be mined is referred to as extractable reserve. The extractable reserves for the blocks (after ignoring the blocks owned by government companies and underground mines) came to 6282.5million tonnes. This is equivalent to more than 14 times the annual production of Coal India Ltd.
The government could have sold this coal at a certain price. Also mining this coal would have involved a certain cost. The CAG first calculated the average sale price for all grades of coal sold by Coal India in 2010-2011. This came to Rs 1028.42 per tonne. Then it calculated the average cost of production for all grades of coal for the same period. This came at Rs 583.01. Other than this there was a financing cost of Rs 150 per tonne which was taken into account, as advised by the Ministry of Coal. Hence a benefit of Rs 295.41 per tonne of coal was arrived at (Rs 1028.42 – Rs 583.01 – Rs 150). The losses were thus estimated to be at Rs 1,85,591.33 crore (Rs 295.41 x 6282.5million tonnes) or around Rs 1.86lakh crore, by the CAG.
Chidambaram and Singh were basically trying to confuse us by mixing two issues here. One is the fact that the government gave away the blocks for free. And another is the inability of the companies who got these blocks to start mining coal. Just because these companies haven’t been able to mine coal doesn’t mean that the government of India did not face a loss by giving away the mines for free.
What are the problems with the CAG’s loss calculation?
The problem with CAG’s loss calculation is that it doesn’t take into account the time value of money. The government wouldn’t have been able to sell all the coal all at once. It would have only been able to do so over a period of time. The CAG doesn’t take this into account. Ideally, it should have assumed that the government earns this revenue over a certain number of years and then discounted those revenues to arrive at a present value for the losses.
This goes against the government. But there are several assumptions that favour the government. The coal blocks given away free to government companies aren’t taken into account. The transaction of handing over a coal block was between two arms of the government. The ministry of coal and a government owned public sector company (like NTPC). In the past when such transactions have happened the profit earned from such transactions have been recognised. A very good example is when the government forces the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) of India to buy shares of public sector companies to meet its disinvestment target. One arm of the government (LIC) is buying shares of another arm of the government (for eg: ONGC). And the money received by the government is recognised as revenue in the annual financial statement. So when revenues for transactions between two arms of the government are recognised so should losses. Around half of the coal blocks were given to government owned companies.
Also, the price at which Coal India sells coal to companies it has an agreement with, is the lowest in the market. It is not linked to the international price of coal. The price of coal that is auctioned by Coal India is much higher than its normal price. As the CAG points out in its report on the ultra mega power project, the average price of coal sold by Coal India through e-auction in 2010-2011 was Rs 1782 per tonne. The average price of imported coal in November 2009 was Rs 2874 per tonne (calculated by the CAG based on NTPC data). The CAG did not take into account these prices. It took into account the lowest price of Rs 1028.42 per tonne, which was the average Coal India price.
Let’s run some numbers to try and understand what kind of losses CAG could have come up with if it wanted to. At a price of Rs 1,782, the profit per tonne would have been Rs 1050 (Rs 1782-Rs 583.01- Rs 150). If this number had been used the losses would have amounted to Rs6.6lakh crore.
At a price of Rs 2874 per tonne, the profit per tonne would have been Rs 2142(Rs 2874 – Rs 583.01 – Rs 150). If this number had been used the losses would have been Rs 13.5lakh crore. This number is a little more than the Rs 13.18 lakh crore expenditure that the government of India incurred in 2011-2012.
So there are weaknesses in the CAG’s calculation of the losses on account of coal blocks being given away free. But these weaknesses work in both the directions. The bottomline though is that the country has suffered a big loss, though the quantum of the loss is debatable.
News reports suggest that several Congress politicians have benefitted from the coal blocks being given away for free. The companies which got coal blocks haven’t been able to produce coal. The government hasn’t been able to invoke the bank guarantees of the companies for the delay in producing coal. This is because of a flaw in the allocation letters. As the Business Standard reports “There is a technical flaw in the format of the allocation letters. As per the letters, the government can invoke the bank guarantee clause only in cases of less production, and not nil production.” Some companies have started selling power in the open market. This power is being produced from the coal they mined out of the coal blocks they got free from the government.
The situation has all the facets of turning into a big mess like the previous scams under the Congress led UPA regime. And like the previous scams, it is likely to be swept under the carpet as well. Despite all this, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will continue to be a mute spectator to all this, keeping the chair warm till Rahul Gandhi is ready to take over. I would be glad to be proven otherwise.
(The article originally appeared in The Seasonal Magazine on September 12,2012. http://www.seasonalmagazine.com/2012/09/mute-manmohan-watches-as-coalgate.html)
(Vivek Kaul is a writer and can be reached at [email protected])