NTPC’s offer to help the Railways fund projects for transporting coal is a good move. But issues like acquiring land for laying new tracks need to be addressed first
In an interesting move, NTPC, India’s single largest power generator, has made a proposal to finance the Indian Railways to build or lay the track lines required for the coal movement, according to the Mint.
Cash rich NTPC with Rs17,000 crore in the kitty has reported a net profit of Rs 9224 for the year ending 31st March 2012.
The power producer has proposed that this capital outlay may be set off against the freight charges to the Railways when the coal movement begins.
The modalities of this proposal will have to be worked out in greater detail and the matter is already in the hands of an inter-ministerial group which will make its final recommendations to the Cabinet for clearance.
Presently, the Indian Railways moves 52% of the coal mined in the country, which could possibly increase to 58% or more by 2016-17. This excludes imported coal, which also utilizes other modes of transportation to the required sites. Even where the river transportation may be available, another source could be dumb barges.
Out of the total 205,340 MW of power generated, about 56.7% amounting to 166,333.38 MW is coal based and for years to come the dependence on fossil fuel is imperative. At present NTPC requires 160 million tonnes (MT) of coal and a little more than 10% of which (17 MT) is imported at a much higher cost than its indigenous counterpart.
It is essential therefore, for NTPC to modernize both its excavation and evacuation methods, including the use of dedicated freight corridors to ensure uninterrupted local supplies. However, the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India, a subsidiary of Indian Railways, established in 2006 with the urgent task of constructing 3278 km long corridor has not made much progress, though work is on hand in two sectors.
The Railways have a conflict of interest with its own subsidiary that the DFC (dedicated freight corridor) may secure business from others, resulting in the loss of business for Railways, which they are currently procuring. This is actually a baseless fear, as there is enough business to go around.
In this new proposal, NTPC will have to ‘acquire’ the land for the purpose of laying the tracks. It is a little too early to comment until we have some clear cut announcement from the inter-ministerial group.
The most important factors are the need to investigate the issues relating to: (a) laying additional lines with existing tracks, to overcome the land acquirement problem, and to expedite the work; and (b) reworking the freight movement timings vis-a-vis other train passages so that track capacity is judiciously used to the optimum extent possible. The issue of acquiring land will then become applicable where there are no lines and new tracks will have to be laid to the pitheads and from where, currently road transport may be used.
These issues should be handled by an independent competent body so that there is no conflict of interests with a clear time frame within which their recommendations should be submitted.
Too many committees spoil the broth and we have no time to lose.
has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at email@example.com