Partha S. Bhattacharyya
Designation: Outgoing chairman and managing director, Coal India
Career: 34 years in Coal India
Education: MSc (Physics), FICWA
Interests: Tagore’s songs and old melodies, reciting Tagore’s poems, watching movies with family at cinemas
After 34 years in the public sector, you have entered the private sector as managing director of Haldia Petrochemicals. That is a huge change.
It is. Haldia Petrochem is a different ball game. While in the coal sector supply is a big constraint, here the demand is a big constraint. These are early days. I have set myself a target to make a positive change within a year…
How did Coal India respond to the huge demand for coal in the past few years?
Indian coal has high ash content. As imported coal came in, we were exposed to better quality. CIL washes 10 percent of the coal it produces. Environment has become a big factor. We have gone from underground mines to mechanised underground mines and open cast mines. Employee burden came down from 532,000 [in 2001] to 400,000 [now]. During the same period, CIL’s production rose from about 260 million tonnes per year to the present 430 million tonnes. This enabled CIL to become the most cost-effective producer of coal in the world. From a loss of Rs. 1,491 crore in 2001, CIL had profits of over Rs. 9,000 crore last year.
A study by The Energy and Resources Institute says India’s coal reserves are hugely overstated. How serious is this?
Availability of coal is never in doubt in India. Only profitable mining is in question. Sometimes the coal density varies, but all coal can be mined.
Given environmental concerns, obviously not all reserves can be mined?
Environment is important. But coal is needed if we want to fulfil the energy requirement for 40 percent of the population who are without power. Do you want that or an elephant corridor? At the same time, a balance can be created, provided mining companies take appropriate care to increase forest cover. There has to be policy-level intervention on the mining versus environment issue.
You weren’t able to close the acquisition of a foreign mine before leaving…
Yes, that was a disappointment. The problem lies in the lack of government guidelines. CIL might be a Maharatna, but empowerment is not enough. For instance, if tomorrow a mine owner offers to sell, I don’t have a procedure to deal with him. So, can I look at the proposal? I don’t know. Tomorrow the vigilance committee can ask me how I did the valuation of the mines and how I chose to buy it. Fortunately, these guidelines are in the draft stage with the government. But someone has to push for it.
What are the next big opportunities for CIL?
We have identified a large block in West Bengal for a coal-to-liquid [fuel] project. It is a block that has remained untouched all these years. NMDC [National Mineral Development Corporation] has come forward to form a joint venture with CIL to exploit this. This project can lead to industrialisation in the state and also help reduce our vulnerability to international oil prices.