China's mineral authority will impose stricter control over coal resources in a move to help develop large-scale coal enterprises, which is believed to focus on the sustainable development of the country's rich coal reserve.
The Ministry of Land and Resources expects to start drafting its first special programme on coal exploitation this year, while carrying out an overall probe into the transferal of land rights for coal mining and the operational practices of various coal mining ventures, Vice-Minister of Land and Resources Ye Dongsong said Monday.
Without spelling out related schedules, Ye promised a national conference which will be attended by provincial mineral authorities from across the country. He said that those operators found guilty of offences in this regard will be subject to severe administrative or criminal punishments.
Zeng Shaojin, director of the Mineral Exploitation Department under the ministry, explained the ministry's moves are in preparation for the country's 18 planned large-scale mining industries, an intention which was outlined earlier by the State Development and Reform Commission.
"We have actually stopped approving new rights for coal mining sites,'' he said.
Zeng expects that approvals will come after the completion of the new programme.
Through the investigation, the ministry also expects to readjust the current distribution of coal mining rights. For example, those found not having won the rights lawfully will be forced out of business.
Zeng also admits the possibility that mining ventures can be stripped of those rights, if the firm does not comply with the new programmes.
Zhang Yong, an expert with the China Coal Industries Association, applauded the move, calling it a "solid'' step by the central government to create a stronger coal industry.
"This is a positive response by the central government to our pleas for better order within the industry,'' he said.
Although the work can only be done through the co-operation of various governmental departments, Zhang said that stricter control at the source by the Ministry of Land and Resources is essential.
Coal mining received extra attention in China last year not only because of high-profile electricity shortages in many advanced areas such as East China's Zhejiang Province, but also because of serious workplace accidents.
Official statistics show that 70 per cent of the country's electrical power comes from coal burning.
Zhang believed the operations of hundreds of small and technically backward coal mines is the underlying reason for "slow improvement in the overall production efficiency of the coal industry, as well as poor workplace safety records.''
However, the move also aroused mixed feelings from the country's major coal providers, such as ventures in North China's Shanxi Province.
Wang Xiaoli, general engineer of the Shanxi Provincial Land and Resources Administration, said the ministry might have overlooked one important fact: That non-public coal miners have already been contributing two-thirds of the province's annual coal output, which was 480 million tons last year.
On one side are bustling non-public miners which will soon have no resources to exploit, while on the other are large areas of minerals designated as reserved for State-owned coal mines, which cannot be developed in the near future in view of their present production capacity.
"Whether the move is right will take three to five years to see,'' he said.
(China Dailiy February 24, 2004)