A total of 713 trips of the South East Central Railway (SECR) have been cancelled till May 25 while 40 trips of the Northern Railways (NR) have been cancelled till May 8.
The cancellations will primarily impact passengers travelling from key coal-producing states, including Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.
At least 108 of India’s 173 thermal coal-fired plants currently have critically low levels of coal inventory. A number of states, including Maharashtra, Punjab, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, have faced power outages due to a lack of sufficient coal at thermal power plants.
On April 28, India faced a shortage of 192.1 million units of power as peak demand reached a new all-time high of 204.6 GW. On average, India’s thermal power plants had less than eight days worth of coal stock on Thursday against the norm of 24 days.
The shortage has come even as the Coal Ministry has insisted that there is sufficient coal to meet the demand of power houses. India relies on coal for about 75 per cent of power requirements, and the Railways is the primary transporter of coal.
According to the Rail Ministry, the SECR division, which covers the coal producing regions, has cancelled 34 trains. NR, which includes areas that receive coal for many power stations in the north, has cancelled eight trains.
Some passenger services under the SECR like the Bilaspur-Bhopal train, which was suspended on March 28, will remain at this status till May 3. The MEMU between Maharashtra’s Gondia and Odisha’s Jharsuguda stands cancelled from April 24 to May 23 as well as the Dongargarh-Raipur MEMU in Chhattisgarh from April 11 to May 24, according to the ministry.
Amid the crisis, the Rail Ministry has raised the average daily loading of coal rakes to over 400 a day, the highest in the past five years. The national transporter has also put over 500 rakes for coal duty per day, 53 more than were put into service last year. On Thursday, 1.62 million tonnes of coal was loaded in 427 rakes, according to the ministry.
Key issues that have led to the major shortage of coal at thermal power plants are the high demand for power due to the economic recovery post-Covid and the sweltering heat across major parts of India.
At the same time, many imported coal-based thermal power plants have stopped power generation due to high international coal prices and an inability to pass on the additional cost to states that procure power from them.
This has further led to increased pressure on the thermal plants that use domestic coal which has in turn strained the supply chain of coal.
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Officials noted that some states, including Jharkhand, had also not received coal due to delays in payments to Coal India, the key supplier of domestic coal in the country. Government officials have said that there is currently about 63.3 million tonnes of coal stock at Coal India Ltd, Singareni Collieries Company and at captive coal blocks.
The demand for power is expected to rise further and peak at about 215-220 GW over the upcoming months. Officials are hopeful that the current crisis will ease in a fortnight as parts of southern India are expected to cool down.
Experts have, however, noted that the current shortage of coal at thermal power plants could mean a worse power crisis later in the year. Thermal power plants usually build up coal stock during these months in preparation for the monsoon season when both coal production and transportation are negatively affected by heavy rains.