"An Inter-Ministerial Committee under the chairmanship of Secretary (Coal)...has been constituted with the approval of the competent authority," according to an official source.

The 12-member panel will consider the applications received and after assessing their eligibility based on the criteria specified and a comparative evaluation, submit its recommendations to the Centre, the source added.

"The Committee may deliberate and recommend the general principles/guideline," the source said.

The panel has members from the ministries such as power and law.

The government has received 36 applications from companies including Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) and Tata Steel, in response to the notice inviting applications for allotment of three coal blocks.

The bids have been invited by the government till the end of this month.

"The entire process, including evaluation of applications and shortlisting the firms among others before the coal blocks are alloted, will take at least four months," the source said.

The government had in February put three mines in Jharkhand and West Bengal for auction for captive use. The Ministry of Coal offered three blocks for auction for captive use for steel, cement and sponge iron companies -- two in Jharkhand and one in West Bengal.

The much-delayed auction features mines that have total reserves of 500 million tonnes.

The Centre has drawn flak for delaying the auction. Official auditor CAG had earlier said that allotment of 57 mines to private firms without auction had resulted in a notional loss of Rs 1.8 lakh crore to the exchequer.

Last year, the government had allocated 17 coal mines to central and state public sector units, including four to NTPC. It had planned to auction 54 coal blocks with total estimated reserves of about 18 billion tonnes.

The blocks in Jharkhand include Jhirki & Jhirki (West) of East Bokaro Coalfield with geological reserves of 267.91 MT coking coal for steel (blast furnace). The Tokisud-II of South Karanpura Coalfield has 127.692 MT reserves for cement plant.

The mine in West Bengal, Andal Babuisol of Raniganj Coalfield, has about 103.841 MT of reserves for sponge iron.

In September, the Cabinet had approved the methodology for auctioning coal blocks, providing for upfront and production-linked payments and bench marking of coal sale prices.

(Agencies)

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