An investment of about $1.8 billion is expected to be made in these deals

Bank of America-Merill Lynch, Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Canada are the three merchant banks selected for helping the public sector Coal India Ltd (CIL) which is currently taking efforts to seal strategic partnership deals with coal companies in three countries — Australia, Indonesia and the U.S. — for augmenting India's coal supplies.

Stating this, a senior official at CIL said that quotations were invited for zone-wise participation by the investment bankers for helping in the global expressions of interest bids which were invited in July 2009 for selection of strategic partners for acquiring coal assets development and operating mines and resources abroad.

An investment of about $1.8 billion is expected to be made in these deals which may involve the world's single largest coal company, CIL, picking up shares in the overseas companies against assured supplies of coal, the official said. While Bank of America-Merill Lynch (and its Indian arm DSP Merill Lynch) will help with the Australian proposals, Bank of Canada will help conduct due diligence and evaluation of the proposals from the U.S. and Royal Bank of Scotland will help with Indonesia.

CIL had received 10 proposals from five companies in Australia, the U.S. and Indonesia. However, at present, only five proposals are being evaluated, as CIL has decided that, at the outset, only listed companies will be considered.

The proposal includes picking up equity and entering into offtake arrangements. Proposals were invited and received from South Africa, but they have not qualified for being considered in the first round, the official said.

One of the companies in the fray, Peabody Energy Corp. which has eight mines in Australia, said in a statement on Monday that it was in preliminary talks with Coal India regarding long-term coal supplies and other possible cooperative ventures.

This statement followed media reports in Australia that the company was in negotiations with CIL. Peabody said that the talks with Coal India involved a “broad range of preliminary discussions” and that there have been no agreements or decisions made regarding timing or structure. Peabody said it recognised long-term coal demand in India. The demand-supply gap in coal is projected to increase in India during the current Plan as facing obstacles it has not been possible to implement many projects. Consequently, production targets had to be lowered and it is now estimated that the gap would increase to about 80 million tonnes by 2012 instead of the 51 million tonnes projected earlier. As per the New Coal Distribution Policy, it is incumbent on CIL to meet the country's coal requirement, if needed through imports.

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