Shortage of power in states such as Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka Friday threatened to cascade into a pan-India crisis with coal supplies hit due to varied reasons, including rains and civil strife.
Several states have been facing three-four hours of power cuts a day and the situation appeared to be worsening despite some steps to spruce up feedstock supplies announced by Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal Thursday.
"In order to ensure greater availability of coal for the power sector, the ministry of coal has decided to offer some of the e-auction coal to the sector during the current month," said a statement issued Wednesday evening.
As per the existing policy on supply of coal, 10 percent of the total available quantity of this feedstock is kept for e-auction. Jaiswal also directed officials to increase immediately loading of coal to 180 rakes per day from the present 153 rakes.
Out of these 145 rakes were earmarked for the power sector.
"We welcome this first step from the government. This will definitely help mitigate the immediate coal crisis," said Ashok Khurana, director general of the Association of Power Producers, an lobby mainly for private players.
The main reasons behind the shortage of feedstock are heavy rains in some coal producing areas, a two-day strike by workers of state-run Coal India last week and the disruption of mining in Andhra Pradesh due to a strike to press for a separate state of Telengana.
As a result, many of the units of the country's largest power producing utility, the state-run NTPC, have been left with coal supplies for no more than two days. Some units were also operating at sub-optimal levels, power ministry officials said.
In the national capital, one of the two distribution companies said the situation was set to improve by weekend. "But during the interim, to the extent of the shortfall, the Delhi discoms will be constrained to undertake load shedding on a rotational basis."
In West Bengal, though, the situation was caused by Coal India's subsidiaries halting supplies to state-run utilities due to default in payment, prompting the state's power minister to assure people that the situation will improve in three days.
Gujarat, on the other hand, while not facing a power crisis decided to stop distribution to other states as a precautionary measure, claiming a 30 percent drop in coal supplies to the state from central government-run coal mining entities.