As Coal Shortage Hits Indian Power Plants, Ministry Starts Micromanaging Allocation

Coal minister Piyush Goyal’s claim two years ago that India will not need to import the dry fuel by 2017 has begun to ring hollow. With power plants battling a severe fuel crisis, the price in the free electricity market has soared above Rs 10 a unit. Fuels stocks of nearly a quarter of country’s coal-based plants have depleted to critically low levels as of October 17, but rather than accept the reality, the coal ministry is assiduously defending the narrative of surplus coal availability and trying to micromanage the situation.

In the absence of any institutional mechanism to deal with such emergency, decision on where coal rakes will go is being dictated by political compulsions. Sources said that every morning, a joint secretary-level official in the coal ministry issues direction to Coal India (CIL) and Singareni Collieries Company (SCCL) regarding how many coal rakes are to be sent to which state.

“We want to completely stop the import of thermal coal in the next two to three years,” Goyal told the maiden Maritime India Summit in April 2015.

“We do not wish to import coal from anywhere in the world. We have sufficient coal capacity in our country,” Goyal – who continues to helm the coal ministry – said as recently as June of this year.


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