(Fixes grammar in paragraph four)
* Sharpest rise this year; traders say stocks built before
* Rupee slump limits gains to importers from global coal
* Half-yearly total coal imports jump 28.3 pct y/y in 2013
By Malini Menon
NEW DELHI, Aug 21 (Reuters) - India's thermal coal imports
rose in June at their fastest pace in 2013 and jumped by more
than half from a year ago as traders and power utilities stocked
up to get through the monsoon season, provisional data from
government sources showed.
The surge in shipments at the world's fourth-largest coal
importer is bad news for India which is restricting imports of
commodities such as gold and silver in an attempt to halt a
three-month slump in its currency. The rupee fell to an all-time
low of 64.13 against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday.
The decline in the currency is making the imports costlier
even as international coal prices are weakening and has raised
the urgency for domestic producers such as Coal India Ltd
to lift their flagging output.
Thermal coal shipments to India were 12.02 million tonnes in
June, up 52.5 percent from 7.88 million tonnes imported in the
same month of last year, data obtained by Reuters showed.
Local supplies typically fall during the June-September
monsoon season due to lower production, prompting coal traders
and consumers to stock up before restrictions kick in at several
ports due to squally weather conditions.
Energy-hungry India relies on coal to fuel more than half of
its power generation, but domestic production has not kept up
with capacity additions in the power sector, leading to power
cuts that crimp growth and also result in costlier imports.
Last year, 670 million people in the northern, eastern and
northwestern parts of the country had no power for two days, the
biggest outage in the world, as a few states drew excess power
from the national grid causing it to snap.
During the first half of the calendar year, India's overall
overseas coal purchases, which include coke and briquettes, rose
28.3 percent from a year earlier to 75.73 million tonnes, the
The numbers could only go up as ports, where documentation
is done manually, send their figures to the government with a
considerable time lag, one of the sources said.
Total coal imports this fiscal year to March 31, 2014 could
hit a record 165 million tonnes from 137.56 million tonnes in
2012/13, according to the government.
India does not release coal import data on a regular basis.
It places no restrictions on the imports of the commodity, which
are shipped in by traders and mainly power utilities.
India's total coal imports also rose in June at their
fastest pace this year - up 27.19 percent to 15.46 million
tonnes - the data showed.
Prices for Australian coal, the benchmark for Asia, have
fallen about 38 percent since hitting a record high of $130 per
tonne in 2011. They are down 15.48 percent since January.
The cost of June's total import volumes rose 28.1 percent
from a year ago, pushed up by a falling rupee, to 49 billion
rupees ($770.99 million).
Coal ranks seventh in India's import bill of around $448
billion annually according to the commerce and industry
ministry, after crude oil, gold and edible oils, among others.
Coking coal imports, however, dropped nearly a quarter in
June to 2.75 million tonnes, its fifth straight monthly fall, on
modest demand for the steelmaking ingredient, the data showed.
Indonesia shipped out 9.4 million tonnes, remaining as the
No. 1 coal exporter to India and accounting for 61.1 percent of
the total shipments in June. Australia grabbed a 16.8 percent
share, while South Africa's share was 13.9 percent.
($1 = 63.5550 Indian rupees)
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)