NEW DELHI The weak rupee cut India's imports of coal, the fuel that provides almost 60 percent of its electricity, by 33 percent in January from the same month last year, data from leading research group OreTeam showed on Monday.
Struggling domestic coal output has meant that India has jumped to the number three global importer, behind China and Japan. It is less reliant on imports of coking coal for its steel industry.
Imports were 9.2 million tonnes, down a third from the previous January's 13.6 million tonnes, and against 13.1 million in December, said Prakash Duvvuri, head of research at OreTeam.
"The fall in imports was mainly due to currency fluctuation ... which has kept a lid on coal imports," Duvvuri told Reuters.
The partially convertible rupee fell 1.4 percent in January on concerns of foreign outflows as the U.S. Federal Reserve cut its monetary stimulus.
Import of thermal coal, used in power generation, totalled 6.93 million tonnes in January while coking coal and lesser grades made up the rest, said OreTeam, which collects data from representatives at ports, mining regions and companies.
Asia's third-largest economy depends on state-run Coal India Ltd (COAL.NS) for about 80 percent of its output, but the company has fallen short of its targets for at least the past six years due to difficulties in obtaining environmental approvals, lack of railway access and other issues.
India sits on what BP ranks as the world's fifth-largest reserves.
"Also, the (milder) winters in the northern and eastern part of the country reduced electricity consumption, thus taking some load off the coal-fired power generators," said Duvvuri.
Most of India's coal imports come from Indonesia, South Africa, Australia and Canada. Imports of the fuel rose 21 percent to 152 million tonnes last year as power producers brought in more due to low prices and a domestic shortage, according to OreTeam.
India's thermal coal imports are expected to continue to rise as it races to up its per-capita power consumption of about 778 kilowatt-hour (kWh), equivalent to about 30 percent of the global average of 2,600 kWh. Power generation is expected to rise 7 percent to 975 billion kWh this fiscal year ending March 31.
Though the government does not regularly release data on coal imports, the Coal Ministry has said domestic output could fall short of demand by 155 million tonnes this fiscal year ending March.
(Editing by William Hardy)