Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (ANI)

NEW DELHI: Business activity in India is normalising with consumption and demand rapidly approaching the pre-Covid levels, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said while launching the first-ever auction of coal mines for commercial mining on Thursday.

“The auction is taking place at a time when business activity in India is normalising rapidly. Consumption and demand are rapidly approaching the pre-Covid levels. In such a situation, there cannot be a better time for a new beginning,” he said pointing to the sharp rise in demand for fuel and electricity — the main indicators of economic activities.

The PM’s statement underlines his government’s intention to allow resumption of more economic activities from next month, something he made clear during discussions with CMs on Monday and Tuesday by saying it was time to think about ‘Unlock-2’.

The PM said the coal block auction will usher in an era of competition and transparency in the sector and see India turning the pandemic into an opportunity. Altogether, 41 coal mines have been put on the block, which he said will attract investments of Rs 33,000 crore over the next five years.

For good measure, the PM said the auction will unlock the potential of India’s coal reserves, the fourth largest in the world, and curb imports. “India should be the world’s biggest coal exporter, considering the size of reserves.”

Shares of Coal India jumped 5% on PM’s statement the auctions will curb exports. Scrips of big names in steel and aluminium industries gained 2-3% as they are expected to bid aggressively to secure coal supplies.

Opening up coal mining to private sector without end-use restrictions is part of the Rs 20 lakh-crore economic stimulus announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman a month back.

Till now only state-run Coal India is allowed to sell coal to end-users. Private sector was allowed only for captive mining with restricted end-use such as generating power or making cement and steel.

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