NEW DELHI: Mukesh Ambani-controlled Reliance Industries Ltd appears to be in a spot over efforts to unlock gas trapped in layers of coal, or CBM (coal bed methane) projects in two acreages. In the absence of statutory state clearances, the company faces the prospect of being fined for failure to stick to the promised timelines for exploration unless the Centre allows its request for more time.

The company has sought time extension from the Centre for one acreage each in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. In the Rajasthan acreage, identified as Block BS (II) CBM 2003, it is unable to start the second phase of work as the Rajasthan Pollution Control Board (RPCB) is dragging its feet in renewing clearance. The company faces a similar situation in the MP acreage Sonhat which also spans some areas in Chhattisgarh.

In both cases, RIL has asked time extensions from the Centre for the second phase of work on “excusable grounds”. In the Rajasthan acreage, the company’s clearance expired in January 2008. When it sought an extension of permit, the RPCB asked it to seek fresh permission instead of a renewal. In the meantime. the company completed the first phase but is unable to start the second phase, due from September 2008, as fresh permits are yet to be granted.

In the Chhattisgarh acreage too, RIL is stuck in the absence of environmental clearance from Chhattisgarh Environment Conservation Board. The company has clearance from Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board which is only good for about 80 sq km that is in the state, while 752 sq km of the acreage is in Chhattisgarh. RIL has thus limited its first phase work only in the Madhya Pradesh part.

The oil ministry and the exploration regulator have asked RIL for details of its correspondence with state authorities. This is being done to determine the facts of the company’s claim for more time under “excusable delays”.

RIL had also faced problem in Rajasthan over its move to seek a `reconnaissance permit’ for lignite in Barmer. State-owned Neyveli Lignite Corporation opposed the move saying the area proposed by RIL overlaps acreage marked for Centre’s special scheme for government-run companies.

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