West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has expressed scepticism over the Narendra Modi government's move to allow 100 per cent foreign direct investment (FDI) in the coal sector, saying the step contradicts "the very essence of Atmanirbhar Bharat".
In a letter on Thursday night, the Trinamool Congress chairperson also requested the Prime Minister to advise the ministry of coal not to go ahead with the decision to wind up the subordinate offices of Coal India Limited (CIL) in Kolkata.
“I express my serious reservation on 100 per cent FDI announcement. This policy can neither bring FDI nor can it bring technologies or knowhow which we are unable to access today. Coal is our nation's pride and we must not forget that coal sector was nationalised in 1973 with a specific purpose of public sector to play a major role in such a strategic sector which is deeply entwined with the energy security of the nation,” the CM wrote.
“The recent trend and empirical evidences clearly showcase the interest of global investors more in renewable energy projects as compared to the coal mining projects. In fact, research suggests that about 100 global financial institutions have divested their thermal coal investments. Therefore, FDI in thermal coal is a far cry.”
Banerjee said that at a time when the world’s largest coal mining company, CIL, is producing 80 per cent of India's coal with profit before tax of Rs 27,000 crore (2018-19) and holding a reserve of Rs 31,000 crore, the Centre's decision to relax FDI restrictions demeans the capability of the organisation. "Moreover, allowing 100 per cent FDI in coal for MNCs will carry a wrong message as it would contradict the very essence of Atmanirbhar Bharat," she wrote.
The CM underscored the continuous resistance by locals against such efforts (mining) of their possible exploitation in some underdeveloped countries. She also highlighted that the move will have a significant impact on the domestic economy in the long run.
On shifting desk offices of four of CIL's subsidiary companies, namely Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Central Coalfields Limited (CCL), South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) and Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL) from Kolkata, Mamata said, “Nearly 80 per cent coal availability is located in the eastern region of the country. That is why Coal India Limited has been functioning with its headquarters located in Kolkata. The recent abrupt decision to shift the desk offices from Kolkata by June 30, 2020 to their respective headquarters in other areas will be extremely detrimental to the interests of all stakeholders of coal sector including the employees. Also it is difficult to move due to Covid-19. Not the least, the contractual employees residing in or near Kolkata will lose their livelihood due to the withdrawal of offices. Therefore, I would request you to kindly re-consider the decision of allowing 100 per cent FDI in coal sector and also strongly urge your kind intervention to prevent the shifting of CIL subordinate offices from Kolkata."
In August 2019, the union cabinet approved 100 per cent FDI under the automatic route in mining, processing and sale of coal.