The collapse of the tender process initiated by the Coal India Limited (CIL) to appoint a consultant to study illegal mining activities is a measure of the clout the coal mafia wields. Nobody dared to take part in the bid that ended on Monday for fear of retribution from the mafia, corrupt officials, the police and the Maoists, who are active in the area. The CIL would not have taken the half-hearted initiative but for a standing committee of Parliament urging it to cleanse the system. It is not surprising that agencies, which could have undertaken the task, are afraid of the mafia-police-official nexus, which has been the bane of coal mining.
The nationalisation of coal mining and the setting up of the CIL, initially with five subsidiaries, were also attempts to end the coal mafia raj. But, soon, it found newer and newer ways to retain its control on the mining sector. The influence of the late Surajdeo Singh, who was the coal king of Dhanbad, could be measured by the fact that a former prime minister would often visit him at his house. Apart from owning illegal mines, the mafia diverts coal mined by the CIL to its own warehouses and monopolises all transportation work. Any honest official, posted particularly in the eastern sector, would find life miserable if he did not compromise.
All along, the CIL has been washing its hands off on the ground that law and order were the concerns of the state governments concerned. In other words, it has always been turning a blind eye to illegal mining activities. The Central government has also been finding it convenient not to interfere, leaving the field open to the mafia. A recent report entitled “Out of control: Mining, Regulatory Failure and Human Rights in India” documented how the $44-billion mining industry in India was controlled by the mafia in collusion with corrupt elements, both within and without the government. Without strong political will on the part of the Central and state governments to rid the mining industry of the mafia, any superficial attempt will end up like the tender process.