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NEW DELHI : India, which is in the midst of a power crisis due to a coal shortage triggered by an intense summer, recorded a 29% increase in coal production from a year earlier in April.

Production of the fossil fuel jumped to 66.58 million tonnes (mt) last month from 51.62 mt a year earlier, the coal ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

Coal India Ltd (CIL), Singareni Collieries Co. Ltd (SCCL) and captive mines recorded production increases of 27.64%, 9.59%, and 59.98% to 53.47 mt, 5.32 mt and 7.79 mt, respectively. Of the top 37 coal producing mines, 22 have achieved more than full capacity utilization, while production at other 10 mines ranged between 80% and 100%. Production levels of five mines were not disclosed.

Coal despatches to power utilities stood at 61.81 mt in April. The ministry said although the price of imported coal has fallen since last October, international prices still remain at high levels.

A surge in power demand amid an early onset of summer this year and searing heatwave conditions in various parts of the country has sparked power outages. With the crisis deepening, the Centre has asked states to import coal. Rating agency Icra said in a report on Tuesday that the use of imported coal in power generation is expected to increase the cost of supply by up to 5% this fiscal, which may result in higher electricity tariffs.

The power ministry, through a directive issued on 5 May under Section 11 of the Electricity Act, said all imported coal-based power plants will run and generate power at full capacity to meet the high demand. According to the directive, all states and power generation companies using domestic coal have been asked to import at least 10% of their requirements to blend with domestic coal. The directive is valid till 31 October.

Power generation from coal increased 9.26% from a year earlier in April to 102.52 billion units, and 2.25% compared to 100.27 billion units in March.

Total power generation including hydroelectricity and solar increased 11.75% from a year earlier in April to 136.56 billion units and 2.23% sequentially from 133.58 billion units in March.

Data from Central Electricity Authority showed coal stocks at 173 power plants are at 21.2 mt or 32% of the required stocks of 66.49 mt. A total of 105 plants are running with critical coal inventory or less than 25% of their required stocks.

The power situation, however, seems to have improved somewhat for now, with the peak demand shortage declining to 754 megawatt (MW) on 9 May from 8,120 MW on 29 April. Peak demand has also come down from 207 gigawatt (GW) on 29 April to 198 GW on 9 May, according to data from the Power System Operation Corp. Ltd. However, with the India Meteorological Department forecasting heatwave conditions in some states, including Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan, to return later this week, power demand is expected to shoot up again above the 200 GW mark.

The Centre has asked states to procure coal through the rail-cum-road (RCR) route. If they are unable to do it, the allocation of the state will be cancelled and coal will be made available to other states requiring fuel for generating companies. Under the RCR route, the arrangement for coal offtake and transportation has to be arranged by power utilities.

rituraj.baruah@livemint.com

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