NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's import of coal and coke rose 12 percent to 18.5 million tonnes in June from a year earlier, according to provisional data from market operator mjunction, indicating weak prices continue to attract buyers even as a local shortage lingers.
Asia's third-largest economy is the world's No. 3 buyer of coal from countries like Indonesia, Australia and South Africa as power plants that burn the fuel raise generation to try and meet the electricity needs of the country's 1.2 billion people.
"We also feel that imports would continue to rise in the immediate short term because of prevailing attractive prices and possibility of further softness in international prices, mainly due to the China factor and comparatively low demand from European utilities," said Viresh Oberoi, chief executive of mjunction.
China, the world's largest coal buyer, imported 24.01 million tonnes of coal in May, down 11.4 percent from April, figures from the General Administration of Customs of China showed.
Prices of thermal coal, used in power generation, have fallen about 40 percent in the last three years due to abundant supplies in Australia and Indonesia and slowing demand in Europe and China.
India's imports of thermal coal, used in power generation, rose 11 percent to 14.77 million tonnes in June, according to mjunction, a joint venture of Tata Steel (TISC.NS) and Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL.NS).
Shipments of steelmaking coking coal rose 5 percent to 2.93 million, according to mjunction's figures based on monitoring of vessels' positions and data from shipping companies.
The central government does not release import data regularly.
Apart from thermal and coking coal, the total import figure includes anthracite, coke -- a processed form of coal -- and other such varieties. June shipments were the highest in 2014, mjunction said.
"The spurt in June imports could be attributed to bargain-buying by Indian companies as prices remained soft," said Oberoi. "Many companies which had earlier booked their requirements for monsoon went for additional buying after they found prices attractive."
Also contributing to rising imports is weak production from state behemoth Coal India Ltd (COAL.NS), which controls 80 percent of India's output but fails to meet its output targets regularly.
It dug out 34.54 million tonnes in June, 6 percent less than expected.
The new government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked Coal India to quickly raise output and is working on finishing railway lines that will help transport coal from remote mines.
(Reporting by Krishna N Das; Editing by Prateek Chatterjee)