Indian billionaires jostle for coal in Australia

Sydney: Driven by an insatiable demand for energy back home, a number of Indian billionaires are jostling to get their hands on Australian coal mines.

G.V.K. Reddy-led and Gautam Adani-led conglomerates are now sparring over rights to build a $5.9 billion train track to carry coal out of the landlocked Galilee basin in Queensland state.

While they have already invested billions in various Australian coal mining projects, the names of Anil Ambani, Aditya Birla and Madhusudhan Rao are also being mentioned as emerging Indian coal barons with a presence in Australia.

Adani Enterprises Ltd and GVK Group are in the news these days in Australia as they have put forward plans to construct a 500-km railroad to connect Queensland’s coal-rich Galilee Basin to the coast.

The GVK Group is partnering with Australia’s mining heiress Gina Rinehart to develop a reported $10.7 billion mine, rail and port project in the landlocked northern Queensland region.

According to media reports, GVK has expressed confidence that its proposed railway corridor to the Abbot Point coal port will soon be given a green signal by the government as it is in the most advanced stage.

“We have everything the government has asked of us, and I don’t see any reason why the government would not let us go ahead,” GVK vice-chairman Sanjay Reddy said in a statement recently.

“The government has told us they are not going to select one party against another, which by implication to me means that whoever is the most advanced, if they go ahead and build it, that hopefully will be the preferred corridor. I can’t think of any other way to read it,” the Indian energy baron added.

The Gautam Adani-led conglomerate, on the other hand, has also submitted a $7-billion plan to build a massive coal mine in the area. Carmichael, according to one industry estimate, is expected to produce 60 million tonnes of coal and is projected to be Australia’s largest coal mine.

The Galilee Basin covers more than 247,000 sq km in Queensland and reportedly contains more than 14 billion tonnes of coal.

Clive Palmer and Australia’s largest coal train operator, QR National Ltd, are two other contenders for the crucial Galilee Basin railroad. The seriousness of the competition to secure the railroad can be gauged from the fact that Clive Palmer-led China First Pty is filing an $8.6 billion lawsuit against QR National Ltd.

“They are trying to steal our work and our corridor. We’ve just brought $8 billion in funding to the table from the Chinese government and we’ve been working at it for five or six years. It’s a big sting,” Palmer told Australian Financial Review.

“There is enormous money to be spent on connecting the mines to the port and everybody wants their own solution,” Andrew Harrington, a Sydney-based resource analyst, was quoted as saying recently.

“There’s been strong tension between the Hancocks (owned by G.V.K. Reddy partner Gina Reinhart) and the Clive Palmers and Adanis about where the line goes. And now QR National has come in as a fourth,” Andrew Harrington added.

While all the four contenders vying to open the unexplored riches of Galilee Basin plan to construct exclusive, stand-alone rail tracks, the Queensland government is insisting on just one track to be shared by all the miners in the area.

A number of other Indian energy groups have also secured coal mining interests in Australia as they seek to feed their operating, or under-construction, power plants in India.