New Delhi: The Supreme Court today ordered maintenance of status quo on three coal blocks in Odisha and one in Chhattisgarh, which the Delhi High Court had directed to be excluded from the auction process.

The apex court also issued notice and sought response of the Jindal Steel and Power Ltd (JSPL) and its promoter Naveen Jindal on an appeal by the government challenging the High Court's February 11 verdict, directing the technical committee to review its own decision to change the end-use of two coal blocks – Utkal B1 and B2 – in Odisha.

JSPL had contended in the High Court that change of end-use of these blocks from steel and iron to power has prevented them from bidding for them.

The two blocks in Odisha and Gare Palma IV/6 block in Chhattisgarh were earlier allotted to JSPL but were cancelled along with 214 blocks by the apex court and later, when re-auction was announced, their end-use was changed from steel and cement to power.

"Maintain status quo as of today," a Bench comprising Justices M.B. Lokur, Kurian Joseph and A.K. Sikri said while posting the matter for hearing in second week of September.

Attorney-general Mukul Rohatgi had sought stay of the High Court judgement which was opposed by JSPL's counsel and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who said that the company has already invested Rs 20,000 crore for developing the steel plant using a new technology.

"Why can't I bid? Only because there is a change in end-use cannot be a ground," he submitted after Rohatgi assailed the High Court verdict which gave a go-bye to the decision of the Inter-Ministerial Expert Technical Committee, which was constituted specifically to formulate criteria for classifying the coal mines for the purpose of auction.

The attorney-general said that on August 25, 2014, the apex court had held as illegal and arbitrary all allocation and by subsequent order on September 24, 2014, quashed them by ordering re-auction.

The committee made classification of mines and changed the end-use of the two coal blocks on the ground that the quality of the coal from there were of inferior and average quality suited for power as better quality coal is required for cement and steel.

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