Govt’s plan to cut coal import goes for a toss as FY20 breaks logistics chain; local output stagnant

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Published: June 15, 2020 5:20 PM

While coal production in India remained flat - rising marginally by 0.1 per cent in FY20, imports surged 3.3 per cent.

coal imports, coal production, power companies, labours, workers, commercial miningDespite having the world’s fourth-largest coal reserves in the country, India imported about one-fourth of its domestic coal requirements in the last fiscal.

Weak logistics support and disrupted supply chain towards the end of the last financial year 2019-20 hit the government’s plan to cut coal imports and boost domestic production. Despite having the world’s fourth-largest coal reserves in the country, India imported about one-fourth of its domestic coal requirements in the last fiscal, mainly due to shortfall in coal production and logistical constraints in evacuation infrastructure, said a report by Care Ratings. While coal production in India remained flat – rising marginally by 0.1 per cent in FY20, imports surged 3.3 per cent. Although Coal India has been mandated by the government to replace at least 100 million tonnes of substitutable imports with domestically-produced coal in the ongoing fiscal, the effect of the nationwide lockdown may keep India relying on imports in the current fiscal too.

Coal production remains gloomy in FY21 so far

Mining was classified as an essential industry and was allowed to operate through the lockdown
period; but despite being operational, the domestic coal output shrank 14.8 per cent in two months of April and May 2020 as steel and power demand fell up to 65 per cent, and labour force left for their hometown in the wake of the pandemic. Even after the lockdown measures were gradually eased in May, the demand for coal did not see any significant pickup. Many manufacturing companies were unable to restart operations due to shortage of labour and liquidity, and power plants were not very keen to lift coal due to muted demand and high inventories, causing the coal production to shrink, the report added.

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High inventories, low demand put brakes on coal offtake

Inventories of coal at thermal power plants have sharply risen in the last three months and power utilities are now refraining from purchasing more coal. To avoid the risk of coal catching fire and pilferage due to high inventories at pit-heads, coal miners are likely to cut their production till the record stockpiles are brought down to mandated levels, Care Ratings said.

Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi-led government has recently allowed commercial mining of coal, putting an end to decades-long government’s monopoly on coal production. Commercial mining is aimed to introduce competition, transparency, and private sector participation through a revenue-sharing mechanism in the coal sector. Opening up of coal mining for the private sector is expected to boost domestic production in the medium-term although it will take some time for the country to reduce over-dependence on CIL for its coal requirements, the report added.

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