India is in the midst of the Corona pandemic, with the economy slumping 23 percent so far. The country wants to make up for this backlog as soon as possible. India relies on coal, a resource that is abundant in the country.
So far, India imports 247 million tons of coal annually for 20 billion U.S. dollars, the “Guardian” lists. Increased coal production is intended to meet India’s energy needs with domestic coal in the future.
The raw material is also supposed to pour money into the coffers: “Why can’t India become the world’s largest coal exporter?” asked Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he announced the auction of 41 coal mining exploration areas to private investors in June. The auction represents a transformation, until now coal in India was state-owned.
Coal that no one wants
Whether Modi’s bill will pay off is questionable, both at home and abroad. Indian coal is of rather poor quality, containing about 45 percent non-combustible components or ash. This makes them not only inefficient, but also the dirtiest coal in the world. Even Indian companies often resort to imported coal. It is therefore unclear whether there is any market for Indian coal at all.
How much coal energy India will need in the future is also open. Existing mines have more capacity than they need to meet India’s energy needs in 2030, the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air calculated, according to the Guardian. The country is also successfully investing in a growing solar sector. So far, India would even be able to comply with the Paris climate agreement.
India’s largest jungle to be dug up for coal
More coal mining in India is not without high costs for people and the environment. Most of the 41 mining areas or “blocks” are populated by indigenous tribes, which have to fight against marginalization and land grabs throughout India. At least seven blocks lie in ecologically valuable areas of central India.
Four of them are located in one of the largest contiguous forest areas in the country, the Hasdeo Arand in the state of Chhattisgarh. The 170,000-hectare site is home to protected species such as leopards and elephants, as well as several indigenous tribes known as Adivasi in India. An estimated 5 billion tonnes of coal are under the forest area.
Residents have long resisted new mines in and around Hasdeo Arand. They are threatened with the loss of their culture, their livelihood and the relocation to bleak substitute quarters. They began a strike at the end of 2019 because they do not want to give up their country.
What they have to reckon with, they have seen in the neighboring district of Korba. There is Gevra, the second largest open-cast tree in the world, several smaller open-cast mines as well as some power plants. More than 80 percent of India’s coal comes from there.
Korba is one of the most polluted areas in India. Air, water and the environment are polluted by the coal industry, the landscape is often destroyed. Babita, who grew up in Korba, remembers playing in her family’s fields and in the watercourses as a child. Her family was resettled in 2004. As a teenager, the now 29-year-old lived in a mining-polluted mining town.
In the event of explosions, chunks of coal flew
The biggest problem is fly ash. It gets anywhere and pollutes soil, air and water. “There was dust everywhere,” Babita said on “Mongabay.” “In the fields, in the food, in the houses”. The watercourses had mostly fallen dry and the groundwater level had fallen. Water was only available three kilometres away, there was no electricity at all. The new houses quickly got cracks from the constant blasts, sometimes it rained coal chunks, says the computer scientist, who is campaigning against new mines. On one occasion, she hit a chunk of her head.
The Indian government does not deny any interference with a valuable ecosystem, nor that many people would have to be relocated to build new mines. For this, however, they would receive “high compensation”. Coal and Mining Minister Pralhad Joshi announced that new mining in Chhattisgarh would create 60,000 jobs. “How else can we develop the Adivasi in central India?” he asks.
Ex-Environment Minister Sees Lobbying Interests at Work
Alok Shukla, an activist from Chhattisgarh, denies the allegation. “You can look at any coal mining project in Chhattisgarh, and none of them have delivered on that promise,” he told CNN. “The coal mining process is highly mechanized. The chances of job creation are minimal”.
Former Indian Environment Minister Jairan Ramesh sees lobbying interests behind the new coal boom. It is mainly driven by the “Adani Group”, a large company that operates several mines in Chhattisgarh. Its founder and chairman, billionaire Gautam Adani, is a friend of the prime minister. His influence is visible, Ramesh says. During his tenure, areas protected from mining had already been reduced from 30 percent to 5 percent because of their biodiversity, he complains. The Adani Group denies the allegations.
The resistance is partly successful
In response to opposition in several Indian states, the Indian government has already reduced the number of “blocks” to 38 at the beginning of August. Five blocks in Hasdeo Arand have been removed, and three new ones have been added. The inhabitants of the remaining blocks are still in danger of losing their land and livelihoods, relatively untouched nature would be lost forever. If a mine is exploited after 30 to 50 years, the area will not be renaturalized as required in the West. The coal mines are replenished at best, often with the waste from the power stations.