Government plans to invite bids from global firms for the first time for coal mining blocks before end-2019, sources familiar with the matter said, a move that would end Coal India Ltd's near-monopoly for the fuel as the nation tries to cut imports.
Coal is among the top five commodities imported by India, one of the world's largest consumers of the fuel. Coal imports are surging after the government failed to open the industry to competition, despite having passed a liberalization policy 19 months ago.
The coal block auctions are intended to attract global miners such as Glencore PLC, BHP Group, Anglo American PLC and Peabody Energy Corp.
The government aims to allow companies with winning bids to begin development of the coal blocks - which hold proven reserves - by early 2020, the three sources said.
It is not clear when the government expects to see first output from the coal blocks. Ministry of Coal did not respond to a request for comment.
Total imports of thermal coal - used mainly for power generation - rose by about a third during the quarter ended June 30 to 56.23 million tonnes as compared with the same period last year, according to government data reviewed by Reuters.
Coal India and a small stated-owned company are the only firms currently allowed to mine and sell coal in India. India does allow some power, steel, cement and aluminium companies to mine coal for their own captive use.