Even though it was on Wednesday that the Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of the coal block to Punjab, the private supplier, Panem, has not been providing coal to the state from the Jharkhand-based mine since September 18.
Panem operates the coal mine at Pachwara (Jharkhand) for the Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL).
Despite the PSPCL extending monetary benefits over and above the coal purchase agreement (CPA), Panem has again stopped coal supplies to the PSPCL’s thermal power plants. This has forced the PSPCL to curtail its operations and it has decided to reduce power supply to the agricultural sector, which will now get only four hours’ power a day.
Sources said there was a stalemate over about Rs 75 crore, outstanding towards Panem on account of advance ad hoc payments made to the firm — which are over and above the CPA and have been made after the approval of the PSPCL’s board of directors.
Since there was uncertainty at that time over the fate of captive coal mines as the Supreme Court had then reserved its judgment on the issue, the PSPCL withheld the amount equivalent to the advance ad hoc payments. It is learnt that the recoverable amount is `78 crore, while the payment due to the firm is Rs 66 crore. Panem has stopped the supply to apparently press the PSPCL to release the payment.
A PSPCL team, which visited Pachwara last week, found that about 40,000 tonnes of coal were lying at the railway siding but these were not being loaded on the instructions of the Panem’s head office, which wanted the payment issue to be resolved first.
Although the Supreme Court has allowed mining up to March 2015, Punjab may not get any more coal, sources said.
No coal rake has been loaded by Panem since September 18. Many units of state-owned thermals were shut down for about 15 days due to the fall in power demand on account of rain from September 1.
The coal stock, which had built up to last 10 days during the first fortnight of September, has started depleting during the past 5-6 days. At present, only 6 to 7 days’ coal is available at Bathinda, Lehra Mohabbat and Rupnagar thermal plants.
Some thermal plant units may face closure
At present, only 4 to 5 rakes are being received from Coal India Limited. If the situation remains the same, some thermal plant units may face closure due to coal scarcity.
During the past more than two years, Panem has curtailed supply many times and even stopped it on a number of occasions. The PSEB (Punjab State Electricity Board) Engineers’ Association has already demanded an inquiry in Panem’s working.
Despite several attempts, Surinder Pal, PSPCL director (commercial), who also hold the additional charge of director (power generation), could not be contacted for comment. However, PSPCL officials said the management had briefed the Punjab government over the Panem move to stop coal supply.
No Panem official could be contacted for comment in spite of repeated attempts.