Amidt increasing uncertainty over the availability of coal by power projects in the country, the Association of Power Power Producers (APP) in its recent study revealed that only 114 million ton of imported coal of the total estimated coal imports of 213 million during 12th plan can be absorbed on account of blending constraints due to technical constraints. Besides, coal handling capacity of existing and planned ports in the country appears to be adequate to handle the expected level of coal imports in the 12th plan period. However, first mile connectivity of ports with main railway network is still a constraint in terms of weak infrastructure, and has troubled the importers of raw material like coal and iron ore over the years.
APP, which has been pursuing problems faced by the power producers for want of sufficient coal, has emphasized the need for development of coal storage facilities at the port premises and coastal based coal preparation hubs. This is expected to address bottlenecks related to time wastage and hence demurrage at the port locations wherein the coal can be prepared while awaiting further connectivity. "Setting up of coastal based coal preparation hubs, besides investments will also call for significant technical know-how and understanding of coal composition, its constituents and technical plant characteristics," says Ashok Khurana, director general, APP.
He told Business Standard that coal logistics in the country needs to be improved not only for routing of imported coal to plants for blending; but also to handle incremental domestic coal quantity required to meet the upcoming generation. Six major trunk routes represent bulk of the coal movement in the country (covering both domestic and imported coal). All these routes are highly congested with capacity utilization) of over 100% (with average being ~150%) at some critical sections, as against efficient level of 85%."
APP in its study said the most critical sections in the trunk routes are Bayana-Kota section with capacity utilization(CU)- 180% (Delhi-Mumbai Trunk Route), Juhi- Sonenagar section with CU- 251% (Delhi-Howrah Trunk Route), Singapuram- Vizianagram section with CU- 100% (Howrah-Chennai Trunk Route), Avadi- Villivakkam section with CU- 189% (Mumbai-Chennai Trunk Route) and Katni-Bina section with CU – 124% (Kolkata- Bina Trunk Route). With incremental level of coal imports and domestic coal movement these routes are likely to witness further stress necessitating identification of alternative sections (to release load on critical sections within the trunk routes) to release stress on the major trunk routes. PPP initiatives could be encouraged at the state level as well to augment rail route capacity, suggests APP.
Moreover, APP has called for establishment of a specialized logistics agency to facilitate efficient sourcing and transportation of coal to various plants. The scope of such agency could be to import coal on behalf of developers in bulk quantity. This will not only help in achieving economies of scale but also address the issues of railway network constraints by optimizing the coal transportation. Despite limited potential at the country level, coal transportation via inland waterways offers potential especially at the National Waterways-1 corridor, wherein it could possibly serve the power plant clusters on the eastern belt covering Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.