Indian Railways is ready to transport coal round the clock to thermal plants amidst reports that the country faces an unprecedented power crisis, officials said on Tuesday (October 12).
Stocks of coal in power plants have fallen to unprecedentedly low levels and states, including Delhi, are facing power blackouts. The national transporter is treating the shortage as an “emergency” and instructions have gone out to principal chief operations managers of all zonal railways to man operations control rooms 24×7.
The number of coal rakes loaded per day rose to 440-450 on October 11, with 1.77 million tonnes of coal moved, up from 1.48 million tonnes on the same day last year.
The railways can handle demand for up to 500 coal rakes a day, the officials said, adding that carrying capacity is not a constraint.
“The situation will not get back to normal in a day or two and we are fully geared up to meet the demand for coal transportation,” a ministry official said.
According to data from the Central Electricity Authority of India, nearly 80 per cent of the country’s coal-fired plants are in the critical or “supercritical” stage, meaning their stocks could run out in less than five days.
Over the weekend, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the capital “could face a blackout” if power stations did not receive more coal. His Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar on Monday expressed concern about the reports of coal shortages, ANI reported.
States including Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Bihar are already experiencing power cuts lasting up to 14 hours. Maharashtra has shut down 13 power plants and urged people to use electricity sparingly. In Punjab three power plants have stopped production, with scheduled power cuts lasting up to six hours at a time.
Last week, Union Power Minister RK Singh said that coal shortages in India could last six months. “I don’t know whether I will be comfortable in the next five-six, four-five months,” the minister told The Indian Express. “Normally the demand starts coming down in the second half of October…when it [the weather] starts cooling…But it’s going to be touch and go.”
However, Coal and Mines Minister Pralhad Joshi said on Sunday there was enough stock of the fuel to meet the demand for 24 days. “[I am] assuring everyone that there is absolutely no threat of disruption in power supply,” he tweeted.