Peering into Coal India’s ambitious pivot

“We do not want to be a coal mining company any longer. We do not even want to be a mining company. We want to be a producer of cheap pithead power.”

From his office in New Delhi’s Shastri Bhavan, coal secretary Anil Jain is working on a radically recasting of Coal India, the biggest coal-producing company in the world.

The logic is unmissable. India has large coal reserves but is running out of time to use them. As the first installment of this series reported, the country’s thermal power sector, which accounts for as much as 73% of all coal consumption in India, is in crisis. 

Over a slightly longer term, as global commitments on emissions tighten, the window for coal itself will close. As Jain himself has written in Energizing India, a 2019 book edited by government advisor Shreerupa Mitra, “As such, India would appear to have a window of approximately two decades to make the most of its vast coal reserves.”

The negative consequences extend beyond an existential crisis for the country’s coal sector – its firms, employees and technocrats. They also touch the economics of coal-producing states like Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. “Coal India supports the economies of several states. Not to mention all the people employed by the sector. We cannot afford to have CIL go down along with coal,” said Jain on the morning CarbonCopy met him.

Enter, an ambitious makeover.

The question is: how much additional coal can Coal India’s proposed diversification into Aluminium, integrated solar panel manufacturing and gasification consume?

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