Coal for development

map-indiaIndia’s coal boom is well underway. India is the world’s third largest coal consumer, and host to the fifth largest national reserve of coal. In 2012 there were 455 proposed coal-fired plants across 18 states in India, more than any other country (p. 6). PWC estimated that India’s coal demand will grow by 7 per cent each year 2012-2022, however despite abundance of coal underground in India, there is a growing mismatch between domestic demand and supply. Indian coal imports have trebled in recent years as a result.

There are major social and ecological consequences of India’s coal rush. Land use conflicts have erupted over coal expansions, where acquisition of forest land for mines and coal-related infrastructure has occurred. Coal-based economic growth is driving up greenhouse emissions in India, which is now the fourth largest greenhouse emitter in the world. However, India has one of the world’s lowest per capita greenhouse gas emissions rates, at 1.7t in 2010, and energy poverty is still a major issue. Coal-fired power, though, often does not feed the grid, but instead is ‘captured’ for specific industries.

As in the Australian and German national case studies, in India coal is a hotly contested commodity. A political crisis was sparked after the 2012 Comptroller and Auditor General of India reported that coal had been allocated ‘by invitation’. By foregoing its right to auction coal blocks the central government had missed out on Rs 1.86 lakh croretrillion rupees (AUD37 billion) between 2004 and 2011. These findings and subsequent court cases were dubbed ‘coalgate’ in the media.

Needless to say there are multiple dimensions to the future of coal in India. We are exploring the interconnections between India’s development aspirations, politics, and culture in the national debate over coal.

Policy, Politics and Culture

The future of coal is increasingly part of India’s debate about climate policy. In 2008 the Indian Government’s climate action plan prioritised high growth, efficient ‘clean coal’ and universal access to electricity. The Modi government has recently doubled the national tax on coal and vehicles in order to finance renewable energy. The government also plans for a doubling of renewable energy to 12 per cent by 2022, and an end to coal imports within 2 or 3 years.

However, the Modi government also plans to double coal output to 1 billion tonnes per annum as part of the national development agenda. This is a longstanding development strategy. For instance, the previous government’s 2012-17 National Plan, ‘Faster, More Inclusive and Sustainable Growth’ planned for coal-fired power to provide about 60% of India’s electricity, with coal consumption rising from 660mt to 980mt 2010-2020 (p. 33). While nuclear power is seen as the main substitute for coal, it is not pursued due to increased public concern about risk (p.122). The plan thereby entrenched coal as the mainstay of Indian growth, and the main source of rising emissions.

Coal allocation reform is still in play. The India Supreme Court cancelled 204 ( of 218) coal blocks allocated since 1993, and the new allocations attracted over 2 trillion rupees (AUD 40 billion). This revision of coal allocations, as well as conflict over land acquisition, inadequate transport infrastructure and capital flight have limited the scale of India’s coal boom, as have local contests over new sites of expansion across the country.

Meanwhile, across the country local conflicts over coal continue. For instance over reallocation of coal blocks in Chhattisgarh, coal mining in ancient forests of Singrauli Madya Pradesh, and by unions working in coal-fired power plants.


Chhattisgarh and Mundra

The project team is doing a regional ethnographic study of coal production in Chhattisgarh and Mundra. Sixteen per cent of India’ coal deposits are located in the state of Chhattisgarh, which contributes 18 per cent of the national coal production. There are large expansions in thermal coal mining proposed in the state, which is also home to diverse tribal communities. Mundra to the west, is host to large coal fired power plants, and is one of the destinations of coal from Chhattisgarh.