Vasundhara is an asset that can easily produce up to 70 million tonne (mt) of thermal coal, large enough to fuel 14,000 MW power capacities. It also has ready environment clearance for stepping up production by 10 mt.
Yet, Mahanadi Coalfields – a wholly-owned mining subsidiary of Coal India – has no plans to produce an extra kilogram of coal from this mine in the next 4-5 years, if not more.
Because, in the absence of rail link, the mine cannot despatch even the existing production of 12 mt, earning it the distinction of single largest contributor to CIL’s monumental 70 mt idle stock as in last fiscal. As on March 31, 2012, Vasundhara had a pit head stock of 8 mt, equivalent to nearly 67 per cent of its annual production.
The mine alone contributed over 40 per cent of MCL’s total stock of 18 mt coal as in 2011-12.
And, since coal catches fire, if exposed in the open for long, one may expect a good part of this 8mt stock has actually been destroyed.
Railways to blame
MCL authorities blame an inordinate delay by Indian Railways in implementing a company-funded, 52-km Jharsuguda-Barapali rail link - connecting Barapali at the mine-end to the South-Eastern trunk route at Jharsuguda – as a spoilsport.
Conceptualised at least a decade ago, the project finally took shape in 2005 when RITES (a project construction arm of Indian Railways) was assigned to implement the Rs 469-crore rail-link with a capacity to evacuate 35 mt of coal annually from Vasundhara, latest by 2009.
As things stand now, on behalf of RITES, South Eastern Railway (SER) has started construction work in 24 km (out of 54 km) of the proposed line at the Jharsuguda end.
Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the project has gone up by over 50 per cent to Rs 720 crore.
Way to go
“Considering a minimum of three years implementation schedule, we don’t foresee the line being ready before 2016,” a senior MCL official told Business Line.
He wouldn’t be surprised if the project runs further cost and time over run.
And, unless the line connects the mine end, the project is of little use to the company.
“Presently the nearest railway siding is 35 km away from the mine. To pace up evacuation we need the railway siding at pit head,” MCL sources said.