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India: Coal imports drop by 30% in April-June period

India’s coal imports have registered a drop of about 30% to 48.84 million tonne (MT) during the April-June period of the current financial year (2020-21). The Centre, as part of the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (Self-Reliant India) campaign, has set a target of 1 billion tonne annual coal production by 2023-24 and reducing the imports to zero.

According to a provisional report of “mjunction”, a joint venture between Tata Steel and SAIL, a B2B e-commerce company, India had imported 69.54 MT of coal during the same period in the last fiscal (2019-20). It also said that the country’s coal imports had dropped 22.5% to 15.22 MT last month, against 19.64 MT of coal imported in June in the last fiscal. In yet another indication, thermal coal imports at India’s 12 ports dropped 34.7% to 17.71 MT in the first quarter of the current fiscal, according to the latest Indian Ports’ Association (IPA) report. Impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, coking coal imports, too, witnessed a decline 28.49% to 10.69 MT in the quarter.

These ports, according to the report, had handled 27.13 MT of thermal coal and 14.95 MT of coking coal in the April-June period of the previous financial year. The IPA maintains cargo data handled by these ports. The report said “percentage variation from the previous year” in thermal coal and coking coal handling was 34.7% and 28.49% respectively. In 2019-20 (till March 2020), India’s total coal import was 248.55 MT, compared to 235.24 MT during 2018-19. As per the present import policy, coal can be freely imported (under Open General Licence) by the consumers themselves considering their needs based on their commercial prudence.

Interestingly, the drop in imports has come after government mandated Coal India Limited (CIL) to replace at least 100 MT of imports with domestically-produced coal in the current fiscal. Industry sources said the trend could be due to continued high stockpile of coal in the country.

Equally interesting is the fact that the Centre, about a month ago, began the process of auction of coal blocks for commercial mining, putting on sale 41 blocks. Coal Minister Pralhad Joshi had said that India may save around Rs 30,000 crore annually on import bill of thermal coal on account of commercial mining. He had also said the country still imports one-fifth of its annual coal requirements.

According to the Ministry’s provisional figures, the all-India production of coal was 728.72 MT in 2018-19, while it was 729.10 MT in 2019-20. CIL and its subsidiaries accounted for 606.89 million tonnes during 2018-19, but it came down to 602.15 MT during 2019-20, showing a negative growth. Coking coal is being imported by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) and other steel manufacturing units, mainly to bridge the gap between the requirement and indigenous availability and to improve the quality, while coal-based power plants, cement plants, captive power plants, sponge iron plants, industrial consumers and coal traders are importing non-coking coal. Coke is imported mainly by pig-iron manufacturers and iron and steel sector consumers using mini-blast furnace.
Source: Sunday Guardian Live

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