Turn­ing around the coal sec­tor

Electrical Monitor - - LEAD STORY -

ne key­note ad­dress at Elecrama 2016 came from Anil Swarup, Sec­re­tary, Union Min­istry of Coal. It was a short speech—last­ing just over 10 min­utes—but drove home much phi­los­o­phy and in­sight. It was in­deed un­usual, even para­dox­i­cal, for a bu­reau­crat to share a view or two on ef­fi­ciency and more so, to a gath­er­ing of largely pri­vate sec­tor en­trepreneurs that are con­sid­ered in­her­ently ef­fi­cient. Swarup’s in­spir­ing con­tri­bu­tion to the govern­ment ma­chin­ery was widely ac­knowl­edged by min­is­ters and other dig­ni­taries that shared the dais with him that day.

Swarup ad­dressed a gath­er­ing of elec­tri­cal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers, try­ing to in­spire them to face chal­lenges put forth by the con­tin­u­ally chang­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment. The coal sec­re­tary be­gan with a frank ad­mis­sion of In­dia fail­ing at the cru­cial stage of im­ple­men­ta­tion. The coun­try, even in pre­his­toric days, never faced a dearth of ideas. Revo­lu­tion­ary ideas like the Udan Kha­tola found in folk­lore of north In­dia ac­tu­ally laid the ba­sis of an air­craft but it was left to other coun­tries to ac­tu­ally de­vise fly­ing ma­chines. “The coun­try is very good at ideas; the prob­lem is how to make things hap­pen on the ground,” ex­pressed Swarup with hon­esty. While ac­cept­ing that churn­ing out ideas has its own sig­nif­i­cance, Swarup re­marked, “I do agree that ideas play a very im­por­tant role but to this gath­er­ing I would sug­gest—es­pe­cially the way things are evolv­ing in this coun­try—that we have the di­ag­no­sis but the prob­lem is in mak­ing it hap­pen.”

Anil Swarup re­called and shared his ex­pe­ri­ence of turn­ing around the coal sec­tor. The un­der­cur­rent of his dis­ser­ta­tion was “im­ple­men­ta­tion.” Ev­ery­body knew what the prob­lem was and what the so­lu­tions could be. How­ever, what Swarup and his col­leagues did was to ac­tu­ally “do” what it took to solve the

Oprob­lem. When Swarup took over as Coal Sec­re­tary some 15 months ago, the coal sec­tor was in a very bad state – pro­duc­tion was fall­ing, new mines were not get­ting ap­proval and mined coal was not reach­ing power plants due to rail­way con­straints. The sit­u­a­tion has now re­versed much to the re­lief of all stake­hold­ers.

“When I took over as Coal Sec­re­tary 15 months ago, ev­ery­one was push­ing me to make things hap­pen. Then, coal hap­pened. Now, ev­ery­one is push­ing me to “un­hap­pen” the coal! It is a very un­usual sit­u­a­tion. When I took over, I would get fran­tic calls from Chief Sec­re­taries com­plain­ing of no coal in­ven­tory,” re­called Swarup.

In FY15, In­dia had to im­port 212 mil­lion tonnes of coal. De­spite all its ad­verse eco­log­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions, coal was still crit­i­cal in meet­ing In­dia’s en­ergy needs. This year, coal pro­duc­tion grew by an un­think­able 9 per cent. Coal im­ports have fallen by 16 per cent, re­sult­ing in In­dia sav­ing $4 bil­lion in for­eign ex­change. “Coal pro­duc­tion this year has im­proved to such an ex­tent that I have be­come to­tally re­dun­dant. How­ever, it is a good thing to hap­pen!” re­marked Swarup, at­tract­ing spon­ta­neous laugh­ter in the gath­er­ing.

Till about 15 months ago, the in­ven­tory level at each power plant was any­where be­tween 3 and 5 days. To­day the av­er­age in­ven­tory is 24 days. There is not a sin­gle power plant that is crit­i­cal or su­per­crit­i­cal in terms of non-avail­abil­ity as­serted Swarup.

Mak­ing it hap­pen: Anil Swarup ex­horted the elec­tri­cal equip­ment in­dus­try to adapt it­self to the chang­ing en­vi­ron­ment. He ar­tic­u­lated the sit­u­a­tion as: “It is not nec­es­sar­ily sur­vival of the fittest. How do you come up with a strat­egy to sur­vive in an en­vi­ron­ment that is chang­ing very fast?”

Com­ing to the finer de­tails of how the coal turn­around was ef­fected, Swarup said that three fac­tors were re­spon­si­ble –land ac­qui­si­tion, faster en­vi­ron­men­tal clear­ance and im­prove­ment in avail­abil­ity of rail­way rakes. Over the past 15 months, the coal min­istry could ac­quire 2,500 ha of land for coal min­ing. For those that are an­tag­o­nis­tic to coal, the Swarup as­sured that for ev­ery hectare of coal that is mined, af­foresta­tion (green belt) of 2.4 ha was cre­ated.

“It is a very sim­ple thing that we did,” as­sured Swarup, adding, “Though I am bu­reau­crat, I be­lieve that you con­vey a value propo­si­tion to the stake­holder, pack­age it ap­pro­pri­ately and present it to him.” Swarup made an in­ter­est­ing point that bu­reau­cracy was not a mono­lithic struc­ture; it had soft spots. “We had to iden­tify the soft spots in bu­reau­cracy,” he said, ex­plain­ing that his min­istry first iden­ti­fied key of­fi­cials that could be sen­si­tized to the is­sue. In a very un­usual move, the coal min­istry did not hold a sin­gle meet­ing in Delhi. All the meet­ings were held in re­spec­tive states with Chief Sec­re­taries, District Mag­is­trates and Col­lec­tors. Value propo­si­tions were con­veyed. He gave the ex­am­ple of an (un­named) state govern­ment that was drag­ging its feet in hand­ing over land for as many as six coal blocks. When the state govern­ment was told the amount of rev­enue that it was los­ing for ev­ery day of de­lay that it was caus­ing, the state re­lented and the re­quired land was promptly handed over. “I got that land within 24 hours,” de­clared Swarup with a per­cep­ti­ble sense of achieve­ment.

of coal,

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