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Power Cuts Perennial Despite 28% Rise in Coal Production in 2022-2023

Coal India, the power ministry and the Railways blame each other for the supply disruption.
Power Cuts Perennial Despite 28% Rise in Coal Production in 2022-2023

Image Courtesy: Business Today

New Delhi: Power cuts in the country continue despite a 28.6% rise in total domestic coal production to 137.85 million tonnes (MT) as of May 31 in the current financial year as against 104.83 MT in the same period of 2021-22. Despite the record production of 777 MT in the last financial year, power plants face a permanent coal shortage.

The government has failed to contain the problem with the Coal India Limited (CIL), the power ministry and the Railways blaming each other for the crisis. The coal ministry blames the Railways for the inadequate supply of rakes for transportation and the Railways, in turn, blame the CIL for mismanagement in loading and unloading of rakes.

Despite record production, coal companies face problems in transporting the fuel to power plants in the monsoon due to the flooding of mines and wet coal jamming the coal handling plant conveyor systems.

The main problem lies in the supply of logistics. To end such supply chain disruptions, the power ministry had proposed to meet the demand of power plants by importing coal. But imported coal is four-to-five times costlier than domestic coal and costs more during the peak demand season.

The states and the consumers bear the burden of the skyrocketing cost of power production. If this full burden is not passed on to the consumers, the state governments would have to incur huge losses to maintain a constant supply of power and keep the price of electricity low. 

The purchase of expensive power either from the spot market or from power plants using imported coal will only make electricity costlier and hurt the domestic industry and private consumers. All market reforms have been at the expense of power consumers and the states, who have the responsibility to supply electricity. Consequently, the Centre faced pushback from states over the proposal.

An inter-ministerial subgroup with senior officials from the ministries of power, coal, Railways, CEA, CIL and SCCL meet regularly to take various operational decisions to enhance the supply of coal to thermal power plants.

According to The Economic Times, the Railways is eyeing a significant upgrade of track infrastructure near mines that will be focussed on coal-bearing regions for expeditious transportation.

The South East Central Railway (SECR) zone has been tasked with developing 14 projects that are at sanctioning stage that will cover more than 2,985 km. Other key projects include commissioning the first phase of the Angul-Balarampur link, which is expected to be complete by month-end.

Another significant project aims to construct an inner corridor of 14 km at Angul in the first phase by December followed by a 54 km rail link between Balaram, Jarapada and Putagadia in the second phase. Indian Railway Construction Limited has been tasked with completing the project by December 2024.

The shortage of rakes is a key issue that surfaces during peak coal demand season, impacting the freight movement on of the Railways. The shortage sometimes becomes so acute that non-power sectors such as steel, aluminium and cement end up with very few numbers to meet their needs.

Calls made to the All India Power Engineers’ Federation went unanswered. If the problem of logistics remains, India will always face widespread power cuts regardless of high coal production.

The writer is an intern with Newsclick.

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