If everything goes well, 2012-13 may prove to be an exceptional year in the history of Coal India (CIL). Having made it a norm to accrue pit head stock for more than a decade, the company is now set for a significant dilution of this stock this fiscal, as off-take soars past the production growth.

True, the company had set its sight on despatching 37 million more tonnes of coal this year against 29 mt estimated production growth. But not many took it seriously and, for valid reasons.

Over the years, a cash-strapped Indian Railways failed to take up projects to ensure faster movement of freight. And to add to the problem, rail capacities which were to be sponsored by CIL hit the usual hurdles of environment clearances and land acquisition.

But this year has proved to be a watershed. Ask A. N. Sahay, Chairman of Mahanadi Coalfields Ltd (MCL), one of the growth engines in the CIL family, Sahay is all praise for the local railway bosses in Odisha for making things easy.

While CIL is anticipating the pit-head stock to be diluted by approximately 5-6 mt this year from 71 mt, Mahanadi Coalfields alone is expected to bring down the stock level by 5 mt from 21 mt.

“Some of the major coalfields like Talcher have witnessed a 30 per cent rise in coal evacuation by rail and are hopeful of more growth in the days to come,” says an MCL official. Growth in rail traffic is also witnessed in Ib-valley coalfield.

Interestingly, it does not mean a change in ground realities. The company-sponsored 30-km Talcher-Angul loop line has hit a land acquisition hurdle and is yet to be implemented. The situation is more or less the same with all major rail projects mooted to ease coal traffic from Vasundhara, Ib-valley and others.

“If anything has changed, it is the focus of miners to supply more coal to their consumers and a matching intent shown by a segment of railway officials to pave way for the same,” said a CIL official.

The end result is both sides are opting for innovative ideas, to maximise capacity utilisation.

For example a mere strengthening of the line to evacuate the Ib-valley coal reduced derailments, leading to higher freight movement. Similarly after bottlenecks on the existing line were cleared, rake movement from Talcher doubled to 40 a day. The Railways promises to push it up to 60 rakes a day next year, that too without the proposed loop line.

MCL is not alone to have witnessed a dramatic rise in off-take. Ranchi Based Central Coalfields (CCL), Bilaspur-headquartered South Eastern Coalfields (SECL), Charat Coking Coal (BCCL) of Dhanbad and West Bengal based Eastern Coalfields (ECL), have recorded remarkable dilution in stocks.

If CCL diluted stocks by half to 8 mt, ECL brought it down to one-third at 1.36 mt, BCCL diluted inventory by 30 per cent and SECL ended at 4 mt, less than half of its opening stock.

As of December 2012, only two miners Western Coalfields (WCL) and Northern Coalfields (NCL) have shown little progress in stock dilution.

pratim.bose@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on January 26, 2013)
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