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Coal shortages: State-owned power plants bear the brunt

Buttresses allegations of CIL diverting supplies to private plants.

Written by Anil Sasi , Priyadarshi Siddhanta | New Delhi | Updated: August 29, 2014 10:47:17 am

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The continuing story of coal shortage that has debilitated electricity generation across the country’s thermal power plants has a clear subtext — units run by public sector companies comprehensively outnumber private plants when it comes to the list of key stations forced to shut down due to coal shortages.

Even after discounting for the fact that there are higher number of public sector and state-owned plants operating in the country as compared to those run by the private sector, the latest data on outages (till August 26) prepared by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) shows that 10 out of 13 stations reported to be under forced outages are those run by public sector firms.

This lends some weight to the allegation levelled by public sector firms that Coal India and its subsidiaries have been diverting coal meant for them to private players.

Out of the 10 plants that have been forced to shut down due to inadequate coal supplies as on August 26, there were eight units at five NTPC plants and seven units at five plants operated by the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC).

An official from the CEA indicated that all of these PSU units have linkages from Coal India or its subsidiaries, with the stations ending up getting much lower than the contracted quantity. For instance, the 705 MW Badarpur plant was being supplied only 65 per cent of the annual contracted quantity by CIL, while NTPC’s 2,000 MW Singrauli plant and DVC’s 1,000 MW Durgapur plant were was getting lesser than their contracted coal quantities despite being located on the pit-head.

A senior coal ministry official corroborated the broader trend, but blamed state-run power companies for not “bothering to voice their imperatives vis-a-vis the required coal security of the plant”, which, he said, leaves the ministry guessing. “There have been occasions when lower rung officials have been deputed for important meetings on the linkage issue … It is imperative to have a system like a joint mechanism to monitor the usage of coal allocated by Coal India,” the official said.

While NTPC officials did not offer a comment on the issue, the company — the country’s largest power generator — has already indicated that it will import about two-thirds more coal this fiscal year to overcome the shortage of domestic coal at its plants.

The state-run company’s total coal requirement for the financial year ending March 2015 is estimated at 177 million metric tonnes (MMT), up from 158.57 MMT in the last fiscal year, chairman Arup Roy Choudhury said. The gap would largely be bridged by importing 17 MMT of coal, as against 10.39 MMT it imported in the previous fiscal, he told shareholders on Wednesday. The three states worst hit due to ongoing power crisis in the northern region are Uttar Pradesh, which had a peak demand shortage of 4545 MW, Punjab and Rajasthan.

In Western India, over 7,600 MW of power generation capacities in Gujarat, or over a quarter of state’s total installed 18,510 MW, had closed down on Wednesday due to lack of coal availability, technical snag and financial problems.

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