NEW DELHI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Coal imports by Indian power producers surged 31 percent to 66 million tonnes in April-January compared with the same period a year earlier, the power minister said on Thursday, as coal-based generation rose but domestic coal shortage continued.
India's rush to add power capacity after years of under-investment has forced electricity generators including NTPC Ltd to import coal heavily as state-run monopoly Coal India Ltd has struggled to meet demand.
In April-January power producers imported 31 million tonnes of coal to blend them with lower quality varieties and about 35 million tonnes for plants that depend exclusively on coal from overseas, Power Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia said.
India's coal-based power generation rose 8 percent to 587.64 billion kilowatt hour during the period from a year earlier. Power companies are likely to import 82 million tonnes this fiscal year ending March 31, he added.
This was the first government data released on coal imports so far this fiscal year.
Research firm OreTeam told Reuters last month that total coal imports by industries such as power, steel, cement and others rose 21 percent to 152 million tonnes in 2013 and that shipments could rise to 170 million tonnes this year.
Top suppliers Indonesia, Australia and South Africa are the biggest beneficiaries of India's growing demand for coal, with Coal India estimating that India's coal shortage would hit 350 million tonnes in 2016-17.
India is trying to push Coal India, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country's total production, to raise output after the firm recorded six straight years of below-target output due to difficulties in obtaining environmental approvals, lack of railway access and other issues. (Reporting by Krishna N Das, editing by David Evans)