New Delhi: What does Parsa in Hasdeo, Chhattisgarh, have in common with the northwest German village of Lutzerath or Brasilia in Brazil? They are hubs for protests against coal mining, with well-funded activists taking the forefront citing lack of protection for indigenous reserves.
In Chhatisgarh, the ‘adivasis’ (tribals) in Hasdeo have been resisting the destruction of their lands because of the coal mines in which Rajasthan government’s owned power company, Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited, has invested heavily for commissioning of 4,400 MW of thermal power stations.
They are supposed to source coal from its three Parsa East-Kanta Basan (PEKB), Parsa and Kente Extension Coal Blocks with annual production of close to 30 million tonnes.
However, it has been able to produce only half of it from the first phase of PEKB Block while both Parsa and Kente Extension coal blocks have failed to take off, courtesy the protests.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, indigenous groups have held many protests to pressure lawmakers into strengthening protection for indigenous reserves and limit illegal activity by miners and ranchers encroaching on their territory.
In Germany, protestors in Lutzerath are protesting the planned expansion of a nearby coal mine as they believe that the village has long been doomed to disappear to allow the gigantic Garzweiler open-pit lignite mine to expand further.
But Parsa’s case differs from Brazil and Germany. The vast majority of Brazil’s electricity is produced by hydro power with just 3 per cent coming from coal, some of which is imported.
Germany, on the other hand, is planning to abandon coal by 2030 as part of the transition away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy sources.
In India, the major production of electricity is achieved through coal, which is around 75 per cent of the total power generation. India’s per capita electricity consumption is half of Brazil, one-fourth of China and sixth of Russia among BRIC nations.
India has the fifth largest coal reserves in the world and it is the most affordable fuel for the developing nation.
Also, unlike Brazil, Parsa’s units are not illegal. The five petitions filed by protestors against the coal mines in Parsa at the Chhattisgarh High Court have been rejected.
But both the mines are still facing the heat of the protests, making the financial condition of hundreds of families, who willingly offered their land for the critical mine project a couple of years ago, worse.
Locals are neither able to carry on their agriculture activities nor are there any job prospects due to delayed mining projects. They are compelled to live on the money they received as compensation for their land.
Besides, thousands of direct and indirect jobs in the underdeveloped region, Rajasthan power utility is estimated to pay nearly Rs 2,000 crore to the Chhattisgarh government in terms of various taxes and royalties. Hence, it is critical for the financially weak state-owned power utilities to have captive coal blocks since there are unable to afford expensive imported coal.
But what the activists behind this smear campaign, who the locals believe are sponsored, don’t understand is that Rajasthan will plunge into severe power crisis if it fails to kickstart coal production from the second phase of PEKB Block where it is not possible to recover coal anymore from the first phase. Also, coal production from Parsa and Kente Extension blocks is critical for Rajasthan’s energy security in the future.
A senior official from Ventura Securities last week said steep electricity prices will not only affect households but also have an impact on the overall economy as well. Especially at a time, when the country is trying to be self-sufficient and self-reliant and is in the process of becoming a stiff competitor to international market giants like China.
As far as environmental hazards go, to say that the economic landscape for coal mining has changed dramatically in the past two decades won’t be incorrect.
According to a report by Coal Ministry in 2021, the government has put major thrust on sustainable development in coal mining and is taking multi-pronged action on both environmental and social fronts.
The Coal Ministry has moved forward with a comprehensive sustainable development plan and has initiated its speedy implementation.
Primary focus is on making immediate social impact through Out of Box measures, besides regular environmental monitoring and mitigation during mining operation.
PEKB, Parsa and Kente Extension blocks will be operated by long-term agreement for Mine Development and Operations (MDO) instead of conventional and inefficient short-term contracts for coal excavation.
In the case of MDO model, the mine developer and operator must ensure “responsible mining” practices. This compels mining companies to address the interests of all the stakeholders, including the local community and the government.
According to Indian legal and regulatory frameworks, the lease holder of the coal mine must compensate for tree felling by even higher afforestation. Both PEKB Block’s second phase and Parsa blocks have received all the approvals from the local communities, state and Central government authorities.
Rajasthan is facing hurdles on account of misinformation spread by a handful of professional activists targeting the development of its coal blocks.
The debaters are arguing that Rajasthan’s coal blocks will affect the biodiversity of Hasdeo forests by undermining Rajasthan’s impressive records in afforestation.
Rajasthan power utility has planted more than eight lakh trees to compensate for the impact on the local ecology to make PEKB Block the model mine in the country.
Rajasthan’s power utility is one of the first mining lease holders to deploy heavy duty tree transplanters to relocate more than 9,000 trees instead of cutting them down. Further, Chhattisgarh’s Forest Department has already planted more than 60 lakh trees.
In absence of desired support from the locals of the mining areas, resourceful activists have launched big budget social media campaigns. In April 2022, project-affected people came together in large numbers to urge the Chhattisgarh government to allow Rajasthan for its mining operations. However, the situation is still far from desirable.