India's Adani Enterprises Australia CEO says coal project 'back on track'

SYDNEY (Reuters) - India’s Adani Enterprises said on Tuesday it aims to start construction around mid-2017 on a controversial $16 billion coal project after clearing all major government approvals for the project.

“We want to start construction in the middle of next year,” Adani Australia chief executive Jeyakumar Janakaraj told reporters in Townsville, where he announced an agreement with the Queensland state government to hire local workers.

“I can confidently say to you, Adani and our Carmichael project is back on track,” he added.

Since starting work on the project six years ago, Adani has battled opposition from green groups who say it will contribute to global warning.

Environmentalists have lobbied banks not to provide loans and a number, including Germany’s Deutsche Bank [DBKGSG.UL] and Commonwealth Bank of Australia, have stated they will not participate in the project.

Adani, which this week secured the last of the major state and federal government approvals its needs, has still to announce funding for the mine, rail and port project.

“There will be early works we plan to start in the quarter of June-July and we would want to start the main works from the last quarter of the year,” Janakaraj said.

Comprising six open-cut pits and five underground collieries, environmentalists fear the mine will produce so much coal for export to India that it will require a mega-port expansion into the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Adani has said the project would not threaten the reef, while creating thousand of jobs and providing India with cleaner burning coal only found in Australia.

“If Australia doesn’t produce and give India high-quality, highly sustainable mining, it is going to rely on coal that will come from lesser reliable geographies,” he said.

Adani has argued the mine is needed for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to keep his promise to bring electricity to hundreds of millions of people living off the grid, but opponents say it is not a done deal.

“They still have major hurdles before achieving the financing for this project,” said Moira Williams, a campaign leader for environmental group

Reporting by Tom Westbrook and James Regan; Editing by Richard Pullin