India's Ruling on Illegal Coal Concessions: Demand to Skyrocket?

India's Ruling on Illegal Coal Concessions: Demand to Skyrocket?India is already the world's third-biggest importer of coal, but the country could see its demand rise even more in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling earlier this week. On Monday, roughly 218 coal licenses granted between 1993 and 2010 were found to have been awarded illegally, according to Reuters.

Of those blocks, just 30 are currently operational. Australian bank Macquarie is saying that if India cancels the licenses following an upcoming hearing, the country's annual coal imports will increase by $3 billion.

Controversial process

Most of the controversy surrounding the coal blocks relates to a decades-old method for granting coal concessions. An article from Bloomberg View states that the process was "completely discretionary and arbitrary" in that "[b]ureaucrats picked the well-connected winners one-by-one." There were rarely advertisements for the coal concessions, and there was no open bidding process.

What's more, the process has resulted in "captive mines" at which companies produce coal for their own facilities, but don't sell it on the open market. That's a key concern for India's coal-starved power sector, but it isn't a problem that will be solved by the court's recent ruling. Writing for Bloomberg, Dhiraj Nayyar points out that Coal India (NSE:COALINDIA) is currently the only company allowed to sell coal on the open market anyway. That monopoly means the company comfortably takes in profits while refusing to up production even as India faces blackouts.

As for the companies involved in the now illegal coal concessions, most will take heavy stock price hits should the licenses be cancelled, Reuters said. The news outlet identifies Jindal Steel and Power (NSE:JINDALSTEL), Hindalco Industries (NSE:HINDALCO) and Sesa Sterlite (NSE:SSLT) as companies that could stand to lose after spending billions on the coal blocks.