The government has received 745 applications from a variety of companies for 15 power-project-linked coal blocks with estimated reserves of 3.6 billion tonnes, which can support power generation of 18,000 Mw.
Various government departments have shortlisted companies ahead of final allocation by a screening committee, comprising members from the power and coal ministries and the state governments of Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Maharashtra.
The Central Electricity Authority has pre-qualified 44 applicants, the ministry of power 32 and the ministry of coal 100.
The applicants range from little-known traders to metals majors. Among them is BLA Coal Mining and Washeries Pvt Ltd, which operates a number of coal mines in Bihar and West Bengal and has been pre-qualified by the Ministry of Coal.
Another coal miner, Mahavir Global Coal Ltd, is planning to set up a 540 Mw power plant in Raigarh in Chhattisgarh.
Kolkata-based Rashmi Cement, which makes and exports cement, iron and ferro alloys, is planning to set up a 500 Mw plant in Kharagpur in West Bengal for its captive use.
The company does not own a coal block, but hopes to bag one.
The BC Jindal group company Jindal Photo, which manufacturers photographic and allied products, is also eyeing a 1,000 Mw power project in Angul in Orissa.
Several steel companies are also among the applicants. Bhusan Steel, which has a presence through Bhusan Energy, is foraying into power for the first time and is planning to set up a 2,000 Mw plant in Angul, Orissa.
It has also been recommended for coal block in Jharkhand.
Mittal Steel, part of the Laxmi Mittal group, has proposed a 750 Mw plant in Keonjhar, Orissa, while Tata Steel has applied for a coal block in Fatehpur in Chhattisgarh for its 625 Mw power project in Bastar. JSW Steel is also planning to set up a 900 Mw power plant in West Bengal and has applied for coal block in the same state.
The big power majors are also in the race. Hyderabad-based Lanco, which has lost the race for the 4,000 ultra-mega power project, has applied for a coal block in Rampia in Orissa for its 2640 Mw power plant in the state.
The other major power applicants include Kolkata's CESC, RPG group, Essar Power, AES and GMR Energy.
There has been hectic lobbying among companies to get the crucial blocks and the confusion has been compounded by lack of clarity in the allocation criterion.
Many companies complain that serious power players who have a track record in the business should be given preference over non-power players who might just be trading in coal.
While government departments and the screening committee have discussed on the method of identifying winners among the shortlisted candidates, the Central Electricity Authority has proposed that allocation of coal blocks should be prioritised on the basis of key criteria, such as land acquisition among others.
The CEA has also suggested two key methods of allocation. One, some of the bigger coal blocks can be allocated to more than one applicant. Second, one block per applicant should be allocated and priority should be given to projects proposed to be located near coal blocks.