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2020-05-02

Coal India sales sink on drop in demand

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Sales to customers of Coal India Ltd dropped by more than a quarter in April, the steepest rate of decline in at least six years, it said on Friday, as a nationwide lockdown cut in demand.

Customer outlets, such as power generators, fell by 25.5 percent to 39.06 million tonnes-the deepest decline since April 2014 at least. Data was not available prior to that. Production fell to 40.38 million tonnes, by 10.9 percent.

To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the world's most extensive lockdown from March 25. On Friday, India extended the 40-day lockdown from May 4 by another two weeks but allowed "substantial relaxation."

State-run Coal India and the federal coal ministry have been pushing electricity generators to continue purchasing coal, although the stocks of utilities at mines and miners' inventories are at record high.

More than three quarters of India's electricity is fired from coal, and Coal India accounts for more than four fifths of India's domestic output.

Power consumption has fallen by more than a quarter since March 25, with demand declining for the first time in at least 36 years during the current financial year, according to ratings agency Moody's ICRA unit.

Coal India officials say the company has been working on overburden removal-the process of removing top soil to expose underneath coal seams so that when restrictions are lifted the mining can resume at full speed.

Private power producers, many of whom are debt-laden and claim to be facing a liquidity crunch, lobbied the federal government to postpone coal-connection auctions, during which power plants bid for supplies, and to return the deposits they made for participation.

"It is inexplicable why auctions are being conducted so hastily, especially when the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has created stress for power producers," Ashok Khurana, Director-General of the Power Producers' Association, said in a letter to the Prime Minister's office on Friday, seen by Reuters.