NTPC’s plan to transport coal through inland waterways in limbo

The power company had signed an MoU with IWAI in September 2008 for transportation of imported coal to its three power plants using inland waterways. However, there is not much progress on the plan

State-run power producer National Thermal Power Corp’s (NTPC) plan to transport coal by using inland waterways is still pending, even as the entity continues to struggle with acute shortages at two of its plants.

In September 2008, NTPC had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) to use National Waterway No 1 for transporting coal to its plants at Farakka, Kahalgaon and Barh.

NTPC officials claim that the plan is in the feasibility stage, while IWAI officials had submitted the report to NTPC in February 2009. “The MoU has been signed between NTPC and IWAI. The understanding is in place, we have already completed the study,” said Arun Roy, director, IWAI, Guwahati.

IWAI’s official site states that pursuant to the signing of the MoU, IWAI got a feasibility study carried out covering all elements and economics of transporting the coal across the identified waterway stretches. In Phase I, the stretch identified was Haldia to Farakka power station. Thereafter in Phase II, the movement was to be extended to Kahalgaon and Barh. The Draft Feasibility Report was handed over to NTPC in February 2009. However, keeping in view NTPC’s requirements, it now proposed to meet the needs of both Farakka and Kahalgaon Super Thermal Power Station in Phase I itself.

While the option of using this route for coal transportation is still in the feasibility stage, NTPC’s power plants at Farakka and Kahalgaon continue to face coal shortage. These plants have constantly figured in the super-critical list with less than four days of coal supply, as per the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) website.

According to Mr Roy, the waterway will be opened up for private players. “Any company can come and offer their vessels to NTPC as well as their rates. If NTPC finds their rates comparative with roads and railways, it will give the order to them. We from our side will provide the infrastructure like terminals. You need at least 20,000 to 25,000 vessels of thousand tonnes capacity (each) to transport the coal required,” explained Mr Roy.

“This would (mean that) Australian coal (can be) shipped to Haldia up to the Diamond Harbour and from there unloaded to the barges and then shipped up to Farakka. We would not be required to enter Haldia port,” he added.

While IWAI has the entire plan in place for this new mode of transporting coal, NTPC officials said a concrete decision on the private participation will be taken only after the feasibility study is completed.

The main bottleneck for this project would be the non-availability of a long-term NTPC contract to use the inland waterway for transportation of coal. In the absence of such a contract, an investment of Rs600 crore which would be required to set up the infrastructure will not be viable. In addition, for a steady supply of coal, NTPC will be required to firm up long-term import contracts.
 

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