Indian interest in Australian coal

AS MINING here is plagued with perceptions of gloomy times ahead, a foreign-owned mining behemoth could be taking a closer look at what we are worth.

The Indian Ministry of Coal has already called for expressions of interest from "strategic partners" in Australia as the sub-continent rushes to keep up with demand for electricity.

India's emerging middle class was expected to push the already insatiable demand for coal up by 67% within the decade.

Now Coal India former chairman PS Bhattacharya has told international media that Australian coal projects could be ripe for India's picking.

The country is already struggling to fill a shortfall of up to 85 million tonnes of coal just for the remainder of 2012.

Mr Bhattacharya said falling coal prices and "tough times" in Australia should make it attractive to buyers.

"Australian companies, from mining giant BHP Billiton to smaller iron ore producers, are all in lock-down mode," he said.

"They have shelved projects and cut output at high-cost mines to weather the downturn in iron ore and coal prices and are considering asset sales."

In May, Minister for Coal Shri Jaisawal said it was time for India to "be more aggressive in acquiring energy assets abroad."

Australia was named as a potential spot to invest, alongside South Africa, Mozambique and the United States.

Coal India would be among friends in the national mining landscape, with Indian firms Adani and GVK already planning to pour billions into coal investments in the Galilee Basin.

Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he was supportive of any coal investment by any country "in principle".

"Obviously all potential projects have to pass through the Foreign Investment Review Board process," he said.