In the case of Manohar Lal Sharma Vs. The Principal Secretary & Ors., Honourable SC has held that entire allocation of coal block as per recommendations made by the Screening Committee from 14.07.1993 in 36 meetings and the allocation through the Government dispensation route suffers from the vice of arbitrariness and legal flaws. The Screening Committee has never been consistent, it has not been transparent, there is no proper application of mind, it has acted on no material in many cases, relevant factors have seldom been its guiding factors, there was no transparency and guidelines have seldom guided it. On many occasions, guidelines have been honoured more in their breach. There was no objective criteria, nay, no criteria for evaluation of comparative merits. The approach had been ad-hoc and casual. There was no fair and transparent procedure, all resulting in unfair distribution of the national wealth. Common good and public interest have, thus, suffered heavily. Hence, the allocation of coal blocks based on the recommendations made in all the 36 meetings of the Screening Committee is illegal.
The allocation of coal blocks through Government dispensation route, however laudable the object may be, also is illegal since it is impermissible as per the scheme of the CMN Act. No State Government or public sector undertakings of the State Governments are eligible for mining coal for commercial use. Since allocation of coal is permissible only to those categories under Section 3(3) and (4), the joint venture arrangement with ineligible firms is also impermissible. Equally, there is also no question of any consortium / leader / association in allocation. Only an undertaking satisfying the eligibility criteria referred to in Section 3(3) of the CMN Act, viz., which has a unit engaged in the production of iron and steel and generation of power, washing of coal obtained from mine or production of cement, is entitled to the allocation in addition to Central Government, a Central Government company or a Central Government corporation.
In this context, it is worthwhile to note that the 1957 Act has been amended introducing Section 11-A w.e.f. 13.02.2012. As per the said amendment, the grant of reconnaissance permit or prospecting licence or mining lease in respect of an area containing coal or lignite can be made only through selection through auction by competitive bidding even among the eligible entities under Section 3(3)(a)(iii), referred to above. However, Government companies, Government corporations or companies or corporations, which have been awarded power projects on the basis of competitive bids for tariff (including Ultra Mega Power Projects) have been exempted of allocation in favour of them is not meant to be through the competitive bidding process.
As we have already found that the allocations made, both under the Screening Committee route and the Government dispensation route, are arbitrary and illegal, what should be the consequences, is the issue which remains to be tackled. We are of the view that, to this limited extent, the matter requires further hearing.
By way of footnote, it may be clarified and we do, that no challenge was laid before us in respect of blocks where competitive bidding was held for the lowest tariff for power for Ultra Mega Power Projects (UMPPs). As a matter of fact, Mr. Prashant Bhushan, learned counsel for Common Cause submitted that since allocation for UMPPs is in accord with the opinion given in Natural Resources Allocation Reference20 and the benefit of the coal block is passed on to the public, the said allocations may not be cancelled. However, he submitted that in some cases the Government has allowed diversion of coal from UMPP to other end uses i.e. for commercial exploitation. Having regard to this, it is directed that the coal blocks allocated for UMPP would only be used for UMPP and no diversion of coal for commercial exploitation would be permitted.