In a bid to boost the COVID-struck economy and as a measure to bolster the nation’s post-COVID recovery, India’s federal government just recently privatized the nation’s coalfields for the first time since the nation was born.
This privatization, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi insisted would help turn the COVID-crisis into a COVID-opportunity. India’s coalfields had been owned by the state and for the first time, the Narendra Modi-led government opened the sector for private players.
In July, 41 coalfields were put to auction for commercial mining, which, as per reports, unlocked 17 billion tonnes of a black diamond to be exploited by the private players.
While promises to nourish the economy was explicitly cited by the federal government, it failed to uphold and address the growing concern of climate change that will come with the felling of those millions of ancient forests where the commercial coalfields are located in the Central Indian states of Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and others.
Among the 41 coal mines set to open for the private players, an extensive and ecologically diverse range of forest called the Hasdeo Arand, spanning across 420,000 acres of land, falls in the trajectory of being cleared for mining, the Guardian reports.
The Hasdeo Arand is often deemed as India’s largest continuous range of forest. The area of forest chosen for clearance sits atop an estimated 5 billion tonnes of coal.
The Guardian noted that the coalfields now threw open for privatisation were earlier deemed ‘no go’ areas by the government for environmental concerns. Also, because the area is home to indigenous communities and covered in thick forest.
The u-turn by the Modi-led government stirred controversy when the announcement was made to privatize the coalfields. States like West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh wrote to Modi in opposition.
“If the government gave me the option to give up my life in exchange for no more mining happening in the forest, I would do it in a second,” Amra, who’s an Adivasi – Indian indigenous – told the Guardian. Amara wrote Modi urging the government to lit the auction from the Hasdeo Arand region.
Amra is one of those thousands of Adivasis who inhabit the thick forest regions that are under the recent target of being converted into coal mines.
In July, half a million coal miners went into a three-day strike demanding the government retract the privatization imposed on the sector.
“(…) no amount of money can ever compensate us.,” Amra told. “There is no forest like this in the world – cut it down and it can never be replaced.”
(…)reforms and investment in the coal sector will bring in ease of living in the remote corners”, PM Modi said while announcing the privatization of the sector.
The Guardian also noted, despite Modi’s push to open the coal industry and cash in the effects of privatization that he claims will bolster the COVID-19 struck economy, analysis shows the different scenes.
India’s coal is 45% ash, making it one of the most polluted variants in the world. This means, having few to no international buyers of such coal is likely.
Also, India’s own major factories cannot run on the ash-laden coal and this ultimately funnels the nations to continue to import the same.
It must be noted, India is one of the world’s richest coal reserves, yet the second-largest importer of coal.
The government, however, insists the demand for coal will increase in the future, and harvesting the same in the nation itself will propel the ‘self-reliant’ aim.
Environmental activist question why can’t India gradually shift towards a greener and more sustainable energy like Solar power and reduce dependence on import, but the government insists that coal mining is the ‘cheapest’ way to meet the nation’s energy demand.