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Coal India has become the whipping boy in coal crisis but Modi govt can’t escape blame

  The coal crisis, reminiscent of 2014, is back. Amid dangerously low levels of domestic coal availability threatening to hit power supplies, it is the Coal India Limited, or CIL, that has, unfortunately, become the whipping boy. However, the real problem with the devastated power sector, with the failure of the Ujwal DISCOM Assurance Yojana, is the Rs 20,000 crore that the power generation companies owe the CIL and the fact that they did not maintain a 20-day stock.

In 2014, it was on account of a rampaging Comptroller and Auditor General who made his calculations just like an accountant and played to the gallery. The consequences were devastating and coal production suffered. However, the crisis was managed through a meticulous plan and immaculate execution. There was a record additional production of coal of 34 MT during 2014-15. This was more than the cumulative increase during the previous four years. This production increased further by 44 MT during 2015-16, so much so that not a single power plant in the country was short of coal and there was an attempt to explore the possibility of exporting coal to Bangladesh.
The present-day crisis is on account of both demand and supply-side management issues. There has been a spurt in demand as the economy is recovering after the pandemic. The international prices of coal have shot through the roof and there have been unseasonal rains in mining areas of the country. However, what is baffling is the stagnation of coal production levels by the CIL, which was 606 MT in 2018-2019, 602 MT in 2019-2020 and 596 MT in 2020-2021.