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NTPC may start ferrying imported coal, through the inland waterway, to its power stations in West Bengal and Bihar in next three months.
The power major awarded the transportation contract to Jindal ITF, a wholly owned subsidiary of Jindal Saw Ltd, in 2011.
"We are expecting the new transportation system to start operating by September, an NTPC source told Business Line. The company is also considering transportation of coal up to upcoming Barh super thermal power station, in Bihar, through this route.
Designed to avoid congestion in the countrys rail and road transportation system, the project aims to ferry 3-7 million tonnes of imported coal annually from Haldia port to Farakka on the Ganges in Murshidabad district of West Bengal.
While part of the consignment will be used at 2100 MW Farakka thermal power station, the rest will be transported to NTPCs 1340 MW facility at Kahalgaon in Bihar using the merry-go-round (rail network) between Farakka and Kahalgaon.
According to a senior official of Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI), preparations for the projects are almost over. "Nearly 85 per cent of work for a jetty in Farakka is done. Barges are deployed (by Jindal ITF) at the Haldia port, he said.
IWAI is a facilitator of the coal transportation project and will play a key role in ensuring navigability.
According to a Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT), the project was delayed by about a year owing to uncertainty in carrying out trans-loading operations (transferring cargo from large vessels carrying import cargo to barges).
Due to lack of draft in Haldia dock complex, KoPT decided to carry out trans-loading at Kanika Sands on the high sea. The decision led to a two-year-long legal tangle as Odisha government claimed legal rights on the location.
The legal complications also prevented shifting the trans-loading site to any other location in the sea. With the Union Government finally nodded in favour of Odishas claim on Kanika Sands, KoPT is now free to conduct trans-loading operations at an alternative location, nearer to the West Bengal coastline.
"We are expecting to start trans-loading operations at an alternative location in couple of months, the port official said.
Interestingly, globally waterways are considered a preferred route to transport coal.
The situation is completely different in India where nearly 50 per cent of coal is transported by the Indian Railways. Another 20-22 per cent is transported through dedicated rail infrastructures (merry-go-round) and the rest is transported by road.
The overdependence on railways has not augured well for the country as coal offtake from mines historically lagged behind the production.
According to experts, NTPCs pioneering effort in using waterways may in the longer run create the much-needed redundancies in the rail system.
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