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HARSHA VADLAMANI FOR QUARTZ
An extension of the Dipka mine near Hardi Bazar in Korba, Chhattisgarh, India.
CASCADING EFFECT

One of India’s largest coal mines is flooded, spelling more bad news for domestic output

By Kuwar Singh

An unusually rainy stretch towards the end of India’s monsoon season this year has halted production at a major coal mine, worsening the shortfall in the production of the fossil fuel in the country.

On Sept. 29, the Lilagar river in the central state of Chhattisgarh abruptly changed its course, flooding the Dipka coal mine in Korba district.

Chhattisgarh produced the highest quantity of coal in the country in financial year 2018-19. In the past seven days alone, rainfall in the state has been 261% more than its average for this time period over the last 50 years. 

All workers at the Dipka mine have been rescued, but some heavy machinery has been damaged.

Coal India, the state-owned monopoly miner which owns the Dipka mine, supplies over 80% of India’s domestic coal. Dipka alone has an annual output of more than 30 million tonnes, almost 5% of the firm’s total production. A Coal India executive told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that production at the mine will be halted for a month due to the flooding.

Coal from Dipka would have been supplied to the Sipat power plant, which is owned by the state-owned generator NTPC and has a capacity of 2.98GW. Power from here is transmitted to the states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa.

Amid an ongoing supply shortage from Coal India, coal stock at the plant is already down to zero, though the Central Electricity Authority guidelines require such plants that are located close to the mines to maintain enough reserve quantity of coal so that they can keep running for at least seven days. 

Falling production

This year has been the first in nearly a century when India’s overall monsoon rainfall has exceeded its average levels despite a scanty start to the season in June. Multiple climate change studies forecast that the monsoon will become less plentiful in future, but they also suggest a rise in extreme weather events such as floods over central India

Coal generates nearly 75% of India’s electricity. Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government is trying to ramp up domestic production amid a rise in coal imports which are affecting the country’s trade deficit. But till September, Coal India’s output had already fallen by 6% compared to the same period in the last financial year. Apart from rains, production also took a hit due to a strike by coal unions on Sept. 24, who are protesting a new policy. 

The government has announced that it will begin allowing private and foreign firms to mine coal for sale in India, ending Coal India’s monopoly in the commercial coal mining industry. The unions have decried this as a threat to workers’ job security. Conglomerates like Adani and Vedanta, which already have mining interests, are expected to enter the market, but the response from international giants such as Glencore and BHP will likely be muted.

For now, though, Coal India continues to be responsible for the lion’s share of the country’s supply. The miner now seems unlikely to meet this financial year’s production target of 660 million tonnes, already scaled down from a proposed goal of 1 billion tonnes.