ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Coal of India

The Coal Nation: Histories, Ecologies and Politics of Coal in India edited by Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2014; pp 348, £63 (hardback).

On 24 September 2014, the Supreme Court cancelled 214 out of 218 coal blocks allocated arbitrarily since 1993. The Court declared the allocations illegal in August 2014.1 The “Coalgate” judgment has received massive media attention and corporate outrage. The judgment was viewed differently by the corporate sector and a few media groups, who are of the view that it lacks a nuanced approach and will cost the economy dearly (IE 2014). On the other hand, most environmental and civil society groups have welcomed this judgment, and believe that the decision of the court will provide an opportunity to usher in a fresh and transparent way of allocating natural resources.

Prior to the Supreme Court judgment, the illegality and arbitrariness in the allocation of coal blocks was also raised in the Parliamentary Standing Committee Report of 2013, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Report of 2012, and the Inter-Ministerial Panel recommendation of 2014. The Court judgment and various government reports reveal how politics around coal allocation helped select corporate houses, often owned and managed by politicians or their relatives and associates, to control and manage coal by paying a nominal fee, costing the Government of India, since 1993, thousands of crores of rupees in income. While the judgment was significant on procedural grounds, it does not seek to restore the environment and address livelihood issues of local people who were affected and lost land due to mining allocations.

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