Poor coal throughput, depleting coal carpet – a matter of serious concern for Indian Railways

Kolkata:  Two major coal-loading zonal railways, South East Central Railway (SECR) and East Coast Railway (ECoR), serving mines under Mahanadi Coalfields Limited in Odisha, are a worried lot these days. The road transportation of coal from the pitheads to nearest railheads has been at a low key for some time now and, with it, the loading of railway rakes.
At IB Valley mines served by SECR, the daily average loading has dropped to around 80,000 tonnes from the normal more than a lakh tonnes.
At Talcher mines, served by ECoR, the daily average loading is around 30 rakes, higher than that in last year but less than the targeted 34/35.  The most obvious reason is the poor availability of coal.  As inquiries reveal, several factors have contributed to poor availability.
State order
First, perhaps the most important, the State Government’s order prohibiting work in the sun.  According to the Odisha Government order, no work can be done in mines between 11 am and 5 pm every day in view of the heat wave in the State – which means, six hours of production loss.  The restriction is slapped this time every year, to continue till the monsoon breaks out.
But there are other factors also.  For example, the Odisha Government has come down heavily on overloading of coal trucks plying between pitheads and railheads.  The CCTVs have been installed at several key points to detect overloading and take necessary steps.  As a result, flow of coal from the mines to railheads has declined. Particularly hit are the IB Valley mines.
Declining stocks
“With the stocks at the railheads having come down sharply, we’re virtually living from hand to mouth”, according to a spokesman for SECR.  The railhead stocks, it is estimated, have dropped to around 50,000 tonnes or so and the bulk of it is carpet coal which cannot be retrieved from the ground.  At one time, the stock was as high as four lakh tonnes.
Despatches drop
Despatches of coal to power houses in western region too have dropped.  Normally during this time of the year, with electricity demand skyrocketing, despatches are on a high tide.  Not so this year, unfortunately for both coal companies and the railways and this has been continuing since April.  SECR is unable to figure out the reason.  May be greater reliance of imported coal than before, it is felt.
Green hurdles
At Talcher, there are other problems. One mine has been declared closed by the Directorate of Mines Safety following an accident and the production in another mine has remained suspended following order from the environment authorities.