The coal blocks were to be put up for auction for private mining in March, but the Coal Ministry was caught in a bind to set any fresh deadlines for allocating the resources, the official said. He said the government’s feeling was that neither domestic nor foreign investors were in buoyant mood to commit investments given depressed commodity business cycle and bearish trends in international fossil fuel markets.

“Last month, the Coal Ministry held several rounds of informal talks with various investors and the sense was that not many would be willing to put in their bucks at present. So, while opening up of coal mining remained on the cards, the time for play was definitely not now,” he added.

As things stand now, opening up of non-captive coal mining would be limited to auctioning of blocks to various federal and provincial government-owned and managed mining entities and partially break the near monopoly of coal mining of Coal India Ltd. (CIL), the official said.

So, the government would restrict the auction of just 12 coal blocks to such government-owned mining companies. This would only signal partial opening up of the sector as it would be the first time since the coal mining industry was nationalized in 1973 that miners other than those controlled by the federal government would be permitted to extract coal, although participation of private miners would remain in limbo.