Recently, the government issued letters de-allocating coal blocks of various companies, based on the recommendations of the  Inter Ministerial Group (IMG).  This post discusses the history behind the de-allocations, the parameters the IMG used while examining the progress of various coal blocks and the action that has been taken by the government. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released a performance audit report on 'Allocation of Coal Blocks and Augmentation of Coal Production' on August 17, 2012.  Some of the key findings of the Report were:

  • The government failed to conduct competitive bids for the allocation of coal blocks.  This resulted in a benefit of  Rs 1.86 lakh crore (approx.) to private allottees.  The government could have tapped some of this financial benefit by expediting the decision on competitive bidding for allocation of coal blocks.
  • The implementation schedule of a number of coal blocks has been delayed by one to ten years.  This schedule relates to the time frame within which the Mining Plan for the block has to be approved, various clearances have to be submitted, land acquired, etc.
  • From 2005, the Ministry of Coal (MoC) required the allottees to provide bank guarantees which would be encashed if they failed to meet the above mentioned milestones.  The CAG observed that there was a delay in introducing the bank guarantee and linking it with milestones.

The IMG on Coal was constituted for the periodic review of the development of coal blocks and end use plants.  The IMG had requested a status paper from the Coal Controller, MoC.  This has been submitted to the IMG but is not available.  The IMG will decide if private allottees have made substantial progress based on certain parameters.  The parameters used by IMG are:  approval of Mining Plan, status of environment and forest clearance, grant of mining lease and progress made in land acquisition. They are also examining the physical status of End Use Plant (EUP), investment made and the expected date of opening of the mine and commissioning of EUP. The IMG has made the following recommendations:

  • The coal blocks of companies that have not made substantial progress should be de-allocated.  Additionally, they have recommended the deduction of bank guarantee in the cases where the private companies have not reached the milestones as per the time line decided upon.  As of November 22, 2012, the IMG has recommended the de-allocation of the coal blocks listed in Table 1 and the deduction of bank guarantees for the coal blocks in Table 2.
  • Since, the system of bank guarantee was only introduced in March 2005, not all coal blocks had submitted a bank guarantee.  Where a bank guarantee has not been provided but there is substantial progress in meeting the milestones, the IMG may require the allottee to submit a bank guarantee.

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Of the coal blocks that the IMG has recommended for de-allocation, until now the government has accepted the de-allocation of the following: Bramhadih block, Gourangdih, New Patrapara, Chinora block, Warora (Southern Part) block, Lalgarh (North) block, Bhaskarpara block, Dahegaon/Makardhokra-IV block, Gondkhari block and Ramanwara North block.  The government has accepted the deduction of bank guarantees for blocks such as Moitra, Jitpur, Bhaskarpara, Durgapur II/Sariya, Dahegaon/Makardhokra-IV, Marki Mangli II, III and IV, Gondhkari, Lohari, Radhikapur East, Bijahan and Nerad Malegaon. The letters issued by the government de-allocating coal blocks and deducting bank guarantees are available here.

For a detailed summary of the CAG Report, click here.

In the last few years, several states have enacted laws to curb cheating in examinations, especially those for recruitment in public service commissions.   According to news reports, incidents of cheating and paper leaks have occurred on several occasions in Uttarakhand, including during the panchayat development officer exams in 2016, and the Uttarakhand Subordinate Services Selection Commission exams in 2021.  The Uttarakhand Public Service Commission papers were also leaked in January 2023.  The most recent cheating incidents led to protests and unrest in Uttarakhand.   Following this, on February 11, 2023, the state promulgated an Ordinance to bar and penalise the use of unfair means in public examinations.  The Uttarakhand Assembly passed the Bill replacing the Ordinance in March 2023.  There have been multiple reports of candidates being arrested and debarred for cheating in public examinations for posts such as forest guard and secretariat guard after the ordinance’s introduction.  Similar instances of cheating have also been noted in other states.   As per news reports, since 2015, Gujarat has not been able to hold a single recruitment exam without reported paper leaks.  In February 2023, the Gujarat Assembly also passed a law to penalise cheating in public examinations.  Other states such as Rajasthan (Act passed in 2022), Uttar Pradesh (Act passed in 1998) and Andhra Pradesh (Act passed in 1997) also have similar laws.  In this blog, we compare anti-cheating laws across some states (see Table 1), and discuss some issues to consider.

Typical provisions of anti-cheating laws

Anti-cheating laws across states generally contain provisions that penalise the use of unfair means by examinees and other groups in public examinations such as those conducted by state public sector commission examinations and higher secondary education boards.  Broadly, unfair means is defined to include the use of unauthorised help and the unauthorised use of written material by candidates.  These laws also prohibit individuals responsible for conducting examinations from disclosing any information they acquire in this role.  The more recent laws, such as the Gujarat, Uttarakhand, and Rajasthan ones, also include the impersonation of candidates and the leaking of exam papers within the definition of unfair means.  Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh prohibit the use of electronic aids.  Maximum prison sentences for using such unfair means range from three months in Uttar Pradesh, to seven years in Andhra Pradesh. 

Issues to consider

The Gujarat and Uttarakhand anti-cheating Acts have relatively stringent provisions for cheating.  The Uttarakhand Act has a fixed 3-year prison sentence for examinees caught cheating or using unfair means (for the first offence).  Since the Act does not distinguish between the different types of unfair means used, an examinee could serve a sentence disproportionate to the offence committed.  In most other states, the maximum imprisonment term for such offences is three years.   Andhra Pradesh has a minimum imprisonment term of three years.  However, all these states allow for a range with respect to the penalty, that is, the judge can decide on the imprisonment term (within the specified limits) depending on the manner of cheating and the implications of such cheating.  Table 1 below compares the penalties for certain offences across eight states.

The Uttarakhand Act has a provision that debars the examinee from state competitive examinations for two to five years upon the filing of the chargesheet, rather than upon conviction.  Thus, an examinee could be deprived of giving the examination even if they were innocent but being prosecuted under the law.  This could compromise the presumption of innocence for accused candidates.  The Gujarat and Rajasthan laws also debar candidates from sitting in specified examinations for two years, but only upon conviction. 

These laws also vary in scope across states.  In Uttarakhand and Rajasthan, the laws only apply to competitive examinations for recruitment in a state department (such as a Public Commission).   In the other six states examined, these laws also apply to examinations held by educational institutions for granting educational qualifications such as diplomas and degrees.  For example, in Gujarat, exams conducted by the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board are also covered under the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2023.   The question is whether it is appropriate to have similar punishments for exams in educational institutions and exams for recruitment in government jobs, given the difference in stakes between them.

Sources: The Rajasthan Public Examination (Measures for Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2022; the Uttar Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 1998; the Chhattisgarh Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Act, 2008; the Orissa Conduct of Examinations Act, 1988; the Andhra Pradesh Public Examinations (Prevention of Malpractices and Unfair means) Act, 1997; the Jharkhand Conduct of Examinations Act, 2001, the Uttarakhand Competitive Examination (Measures for Prevention and Prevention of Unfair Means in Recruitment) Act, 2023, the Gujarat Public Examination (Prevention of Unfair Methods) Act, 2023; PRS.