EXCLUSIVE Indian states suffer power cuts as coal stocks shrink

Workers drill at an open cast coal field at Dhanbad district in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand September 18, 2012. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood/File Photo
  • India's Oct power supply deficit makes up 11.2% of 2021 shortage
  • Jharkhand, Bihar, Rajasthan states among the worst affected
  • Over half of India's coal-fired units have under 3 days stock

CHENNAI, Oct 8 (Reuters) - North Indian states have suffered electricity cuts and face further outages because of a lack of coal, an analysis of government data and interviews with residents found, contradicting government assurances there is enough power.

The shortages in India - the world's largest coal consumer after China - follow widespread outages in neighbouring China, which has shut factories and schools to manage the crisis.

Over half of India's 135 coal-fired power plants, which in total supply around 70% of India's electricity, have fuel stocks of less than three days, data from the federal grid operator showed.

India's power ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Wednesday, the Indian Express newspaper quoted power minister R.K. Singh as saying: "There is nowhere that we have not been able to supply the quantity of power demanded."

Reuters analysis of daily load despatch data from federal grid regulator POSOCO showed India's power supply deficit in the first seven days of October amounted to 11.2% of the country's total shortages throughout the year.

The data is publicly available but the analysis provides a first concrete indication of the extent of the problem.

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India's power shortfall in the first seven days of October was over 21 times the deficit in the same period last year, and more than four times of that in 2019. Supply shortages over the last two years have largely been restricted to the strife-torn region of Jammu and Kashmir.

"For the last several days, we haven't had power for 7-8 hours a day," Prashant Raj, an electronic store manager in the Madhubani district of Bihar told Reuters.

India's eastern states of Jharkhand and Bihar state, and north western Rajasthan were among the worst affected, an analysis of daily load despatch data from federal grid regulator POSOCO showed.

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Jharkhand recorded a power deficit of 18%-24%, while power supply to Bihar and Rajasthan was between 6% and 17% below requirements, the POSOCO data revealed.

Vaishali Master, a 52-year old architect living in the village of Aleesar located over 50 kilometres (31.07 miles) from the Rajasthan state capital of Jaipur, said she experienced 12-14 hours of power cuts over the last four days.

"There are a lot of unscheduled outages. We have almost never have power in the night," she said.

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Industrial states such as Gujarat and Haryana also faced more shortages than average this week, the data showed, as did some parts of India's most populous state Uttar Pradesh, which faces elections in early 2022.

"We witnessed more than four disruptions which were of two to five minutes range and in any industry the disruptions cause more loss than the longer power cuts. The situation has worsened," said V K Agarwal, an industrialist in Uttar Pradesh's capital city of Lucknow.

India's southern state of Kerala has asked its citizens to restrict use of electrical appliances such as grinders and dryers after sunset, a senior official in the state's electricity board said.

The Federation of Indian Mineral Industries (FIMI), a metals industry lobby group, warned of plant closures and job losses on Thursday.

"The current acute coal crunch due to various factors has created an immensely precarious situation for coal consumers, mainly for the aluminium and steel industry," FIMI said in a letter dated Oct. 6 to the top bureaucrat in the Ministry of Coal.

A senior official at a state government-run utility, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said widespread outages in states such as Rajasthan and Haryana were discussed in a meeting with federal government representatives last week.

The outcome of the talks was unclear.

Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneswar and Saurabh Sharma in Lucknow; editing by Barbara Lewis

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