The country’s chief statistician, TCA Anant, has said that state-run coal companies are “under-reporting time and cost overruns” of their various projects, which is making it difficult for the ministry of statistics and programme implementation (MoSPI) to make a correct assessment of delays and cost-escalations of various mining projects.
Anant, in a letter to coal secretary SK Srivastava, has said that both the coal ministry and Coal India have not helped MoSPI in compiling an accurate estimate of the delays incurred in various coal projects costing Rs 150 crore and above.
Anant told Srivastava that while analysing the coal exploitation data, MoSPI officials have observed data gaps in reporting revised cost estimates and the commissioning schedules of various mines.
“This suggests that the data on time and cost overruns are under-reported by project agencies. Please ensure the timely reporting on these matters to help us correctly ascertain the data,” Anant wrote to Srivastava.
Despite the under-reporting, the MoSPI had recently undertaken a due diligence on 51 coal projects. Of them, 18 have sustained delays. Of these 18 mines, 10 projects are delayed in the range of 13-24 months while eight projects have got delayed by 25-60 months. At least in two projects he said that MoSPI has found time and cost overruns.
In case of a mine of Neyveli Lignite Corporation, the cost has shot up to Rs 3,027.59 crore against the estimated Rs 2,030.78 crore and the corresponding time delay has been five years.
Similarly in case of Magadh Opencast project of Central Coalfields Limited, the cost escalation has been to Rs 706.40 crore against the original estimate of Rs 469.78 crore while the time delay is almost four years.
He has asked Srivastava review these eight projects on priority in view of their huge time and cost overruns.
A top coal ministry official countered Anant’s observations and told The Indian Express that there is no reason why either the ministry or Coal India should under-report time and cost overruns. The official said that it is now well established that the system of ‘go’ and ‘no-go’ had led to delays until it was dismantled recently.
“It should be appreciated that there are 39 coal projects which are stranded for want of either green clearances or land acquisition issues. Of these 19 projects have reserves worth 144 million tonne annually and can potentially feed around 35 power turbines for the next five years,” the official said.