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By Sudarshan Varadhan
CHENNAI (Reuters) - Coal India Ltd, the world's largest coal miner, could venture into solar wafer manufacturing and wants to "aggressively" participate in the country's solar energy auctions, its chairman told Reuters on Tuesday.
Pramod Agarwal said its joint venture with state-run NLC India Ltd plans to invest around 125 billion rupees ($1.73 billion) in solar power projects with a capacity of 3,000 megawatts, of which Coal India will invest some 60 billion rupees by March 2024.
At the same time, it plans to keep closing small mines and stay away from opening those that would entail mass hiring, Agarwal said. The group closed 82 mines in the three years to March 2020, resulting in cuts to its workforce of 18,600 employees.
"Coal as you know, we're going to lose business in the next two, three decades. Solar will take over (from) coal slowly as a major energy provider in the coming years," Agarwal said in an interview.
"We are just exploring the possibilities where we can invest in solar wafer production, nobody is (currently) there in the country," he said.
India, which makes solar cells and modules but not wafers, is planning to levy customs duties on some solar equipment from April 2022 as it looks to expand local manufacturing capacity.
Agarwal said the company's steadily falling headcount would lead to a major reduction in costs. "The net reduction of employees is to the tune of 13,000 to 14,000 per annum," he said.
State-run Coal India will face increased costs due to periodical wage revisions for non-executive employees, effective from July 1, 2021.
"But manpower reduction will have a stabilizing effect, so the wage bill effect may be flat," Agarwal said.
($1 = 72.4450 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Susan Fenton and Jan Harvey)