NEW DELHI, March 19 (Reuters) - India hopes to commission three major railway lines in 2017 to move coal from existing and planned mines of Coal India Limited, the junior coal minister said, which the state-run miner considers crucial in helping it meet production targets.
The world's biggest coal miner has repeatedly said its success in achieving a government target of 615 million tonnes of coal production by 2016/17 hinges on the key rail lines in three coal-bearing states, apart from timely green approvals.
Any rise in local availability of coal in the energy-hungry nation would help trim its import needs. India imported 112.8 million tonnes of thermal and coking coal between April and January, up 29 percent from a year earlier, as domestic supply fell short of surging demand in Asia's third-largest economy.
Coal India has set aside a total 70.45 billion rupees ($1.30 billion) for the three lines in north-eastern states -- the Tori-Shivpur line in Jharkhand state, the Bhupdeopur-Korichappar-Korba line in Chattisgarh and Gopalpur-Manoharpur in Odisha state, PrakashBapu Patil told lawmakers.
"The commissioning of these rail projects would facilitate coal evacuation (transportation) from ongoing and future projects and thus help in increasing the production and supply of coal from these coalfields," Patil said in a written reply to the lower house of parliament.
The Tori-Shivpur line will connect the North Karanpura-Auranga coalfields in Jharkhand and is intended to handle 80 million tonnes of coal a year. The Odisha rail link is seen transporting 30 million tonnes a year from the IB Valley coalfield. Both are likely to be commissioned by end-March 2017.
The Chattisgarh rail link, which is seen transporting 40 million tonnes of the fuel from Coal India's Mand-Raigarh and Korba fields, is likely to be operational "by the beginning of 13th Plan Period", Patil said, referring to the next five-year plan period running from April 2017 to 2022.
Coal production has failed to keep pace with capacity growth in the power sector in India, where energy output falls far short of the demands of a fast-growing economy and an increasingly affluent population.
The miner, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country's coal output, has repeatedly lagged production aims due to lower productivity for various reasons, including delays in obtaining environment and forestry approvals for new mines.
It is set to miss its production target of 464 million tonnes for the current fiscal year through March, but will meet its supply aim of 470 million tonnes by drawing on stocks, its chairman said last month.
($1 = 54.2050 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Malini Menon; editing by Keiron Henderson)