Excessive rainfall in the month of June this year in four major coal mine areas; local law and order issues in Odisha leading to repeated work stoppage; delayed physical possession of non-forest land in 14 coal mines; delay in processing of forest clearance proposals at state level – these are some of the major reasons behind shortfall in coal production in India, according to Union coal ministry.
This shortfall in production has affected the coal stocks in power plants across the country. According to the data of CEA (Central Electricity Authority), the number of non-pithead plants that have either “critical” or “super-critical” stock of coal rose from 16 to 25 in between June 27 and November 14, respectively. Non-pithead plants are the ones that are not located near the coal mines.
In a note dated October 24, 2018, the Union coal ministry told the committee of secretaries (COS) – which has been formed to deal with various coal sector issues – the reasons behind the shortfall in coal production this year by Coal India Limited (CIL). The CIL works under Union coal ministry only. The CIL and its subsidiaries account for more than 80 per cent of domestic coal output and employed 2.50 lakh workers and 30,798 supervisors as of April 2018.
‘Inadequate supply situation unlikely to improve soon’
Over the past 15 months, a number of thermal power plants across the country have been running with sub-optimum levels of fuel stocks due to inadequate supply of coal. The shortage has especially affected plants that are located far from coal mines. This situation is unlikely to improve anytime soon. On July 3, Union Power Minister R K Singh said in Shimla that the coal shortage situation in the various power plants would persist for 2-3 years, and states had been allowed to import coal. Singh said that “coal will continue to be a problem for 2-3 years” until new mines of Coal India Limited are opened after getting environment clearances
The coal ministry note listed law and order issues faced by Mahanadi Coalfields Limited (MCL), one of the eight subsidiaries of the CIL, as one of the reason for shortfall in production. “Local law and order issues related to repeated work stoppage by workers of contractor in Talcher, Odisha (MCL). During first half of 2018-19, 142 number of FIRs, 11 complaints and 26 damage suits have been filed by MCL. MCL had faced loss of 3,704 working hours and 280 number of disruptions,” the note stated. The note also stated that excessive rainfall in the month of June this year affected the coal production in four coal mine areas belonging to three CIL subsidiaries — Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), Central Coalfields Limited (CCL) and Western Coalfield Limited (WCL).
The Union coal ministry had set a target of 282.29 million tonnes (MT) of coal production by the CIL in first half of 2018-19. However, the company was able to produce 256.47 MT of coal in this time period. Three other reasons listed in the note are: “Delayed physical possession of non-forest land in 14 mines of MCL, BCCL and South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL); delay in processing of forest clearance proposals at state level and handover of forest land; land authentication issue in case of 11 coal mines spread across Eastern Coalfields Limited (ECL), CCL and SECL.” The SECL and ECL are also the subsidiaries of the CIL.
The note also stated that “less overburden removal by the contractors” in some coal mines of BCCL, WCL, SECL and NCL also led to the shortfall in coal production this year. Overburden is the natural rock and topsoil that sits above the mineral ore body that is going to be mined. It needs to be removed to allow access to the ore. The note mentioned that the number of “critical” and “supercritical” power plants as on April 1, 2018 was 30. This increased to 31 as on October 22, 2018. Therefore, according to the note, “instructions have been issued to CIL to supply coal to critical and supercritical plants on priority”.