India Coal Conference 2011 discussed the viable options present before the coal industry. It also focused on domestic production of coal, its price and the need for a boost to correct the situation.Date: July 26-27, 2011Venue:KolkataOrganiser:ASAPP Media Estimates say that the demand for coal in 2021-22 is projected at 1,353 mt against the production assessment at 1,084 mt, leaving a shortfall of 269 mt. Demand for coal is growing faster than oil and gas as China and India may double imports of thermal coal to 104 mt this fiscal.The Indian coal industry is the fourth largest in terms of coal reserves and third largest in terms of coal production in the world. But despite its huge resource base, India has not been able to minimise its coal deficit. More power producers than ever before are shying away from coal based power generation a fallout of the price rise in coal. With a highly regulated power sector and a far more open coal sector, the recent pullout by captive power producers magnifies the need for a better match between user and producer sectors. A day after Coal Minister Sriprakash Jaiswal announced that 216 coal blocks will be available for competitive bidding, practitioners in the India Coal conference in Kolkata were heard lamenting that many blocks available for private companies are amongst the least viable. "Inefficient allocation of coal blocks is partly responsible for not meeting coal demand," said NN Gautam, Conference Chair and Advisor (Projects) to the Ministry of Coal.This year, India Coal conference, held in Kolkata on 26-27 July, focused on the theme 'Harnessing new technologies and methods for a sustainable future', including a need for augmented efficiency through technology, infrastructure and methodologies. "Policies must emerge from new technologies," said Chief Guest Satish Puri, Director General of Mine Safety. Speakers also pointed out the need for monitoring such processes: comprehensive Detailed Project Reports (DPRs) should be mandated, as the industry has not been preparing such reports effectively. From 'blast-less' mining technology to the need to encourage more underground mining and a proposal to set up 'mega coal mining' blocks, they made a case for coal's sustenance through adopting new technologies, processes and ideas.The conference also witnessed a heal-thy debate on the feasibility of import of coal (27 mt coal is imported, 85 per cent of which is from Australia) and acquisition of coal mines. There must be a reason private players are choosing to import rather than utilise coal blocks, delegates said on the sidelines of the conference. Relatedly, "optimisation of coal flows can bring about annual savings to the order to Rs 5,800 crore about 25 per cent of total transportation cost," said Bidyut Chakraborty of KPMG, recommending a logistics reform and 'linkage consolidation' for coal. Linkage based power plants will face an increasing shortage of coal up to 32 per cent in the next five years, he added.Problems of infrastructure and dealing with various agencies of the government for clearances are amongst the irritants, speakers said. Gautam said, forest clearance issues are likely to result in 250 mt of coal loss in the short term. Citing two recent examples on the conference's sidelines, practitioners said the trend will be to hire and outsource clearances to private 'consultants', thereby institutionalising 'payoffs' for the purpose.The Ministry of Environment and Forests should spend on creating new forests and ease up port capacities and the railways' general lack of initiative in making coal friendly policies continue in the face of rising demand.