India is expected to overtake China as the world's top coal importer in 2015, faster than previously expected, traders and consultants said on Wednesday.
India's coal imports should rise to around 200 million tonnes this year, from around 180 million tonnes in 2014, said Mayank Garg, managing director of consultancy Venerable Energy Solutions Managing Director.
"It's happened much faster than expected because Chinese imports have gone down and prices have gone down - price plays a very important role in India."
Speaking at the IHS European coal conference, Garg said that Indian imports could rise to 250 million tonnes within three to four years if prices remained around current levels.
Global coal prices have been depressed in recent years by a glut in supply.
"There's a possibility of exploding growth of imports... if logistical restraints can be managed then the market could explode," Garg said.
Meanwhile a fall in Chinese imports has been sharper than had been expected.
Earlier this week a Reuters poll showed top coal consumer China's thermal coal imports are expected to drop by 52 million tonnes or around a quarter in 2015, as the country seeks to support its domestic producers and address environmental concerns.
International Energy Agency data showed China imported 229 million tonnes of thermal coal, including lignite, in 2014.
"In India everyone has had steady growth, the drop in China was the surprise," a trader said.