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India's first-quarter coal imports fall 8.1 percent

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's coal imports fell 8.1 percent to 52.70 million tonnes in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, Coal Minister Piyush Goyal told lawmakers on Thursday, as the world's third largest consumer of coal looks to cut dependence on imports.

Coal imports fell for the second straight year in 2017 to 191 tonnes, down 6.4 percent from 2016 levels, Goyal said, as state-run Coal India Ltd ramped up production to address domestic demand.

"The gap between demand and supply of coal cannot be bridged completely as there is insufficient domestic availability of coking coal and power plants designed on imported coal will continue to import coal for their production," Goyal said.

Inventories at the world's largest coal miner fell 19.4 percent to about 50 tonnes at the end of the June quarter, Goyal told lawmakers. Coal-fired power plants had 16.73 million tonnes of the dirty fuel as on July 25.

India's ability to reduce its coal stockpile is tied to improvements in its power distribution network, as over a fifth of its citizens still lack access to electricity.

About four-fifths of power generated in the country comes from coal-fired plants, making it one of the world's biggest users of the dirty fuel.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan)