The king drawn slugfest between Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh over coal mines has taken an interesting turn.
Responding to Rajasthan’s repeated requests, the Centre has requested Chhattisgarh government to ensure support of its local administration to help state utility Rajasthan Rajya Vidhyut Utpadan Nigam Limited to carry out coal mining activities.
Under the pressure from a highly funded campaign on social media by a group of detractors, the Chhattisgarh government has stopped RRVUNL from going ahead with the mining activities at its three blocks awarded by the centre.
In anticipation of uninterrupted coal supply at an affordable cost from its three captive coal blocks, the Rajasthan government invested Rs 25,000 crore approx. to commission close to 4,400 MW of power generation capacity and other infrastructure.
Currently, it is producing about 15 million tonne of coal a year from one of the blocks where coal is exhausted in the first phase.
While the nation is facing coal shortages, RRVUNL is unable to commence operations in the second phase of the producing mine besides opening two other mines. Instead of sourcing fuel from Coal India, Rajasthan can become self-reliant in coal production if it is able to go ahead with these ambitious mining projects.
Stuck in the middle is Adani Group, the Ahmedabad-based conglomerate, which is the operator of the mines.
The Centre told Chhattisgarh that ‘immediate commencement of mining operation is of paramount importance for supply security of Rajasthan’.
Chhattisgarh accounts for the highest coal production of 158 million tonnes in the country’s total production of over 700 million tonnes in 2020-21.
“As you are aware that we are experiencing unprecedented power demand in the current year. In order to meet such a surge in demand, supply of coal to thermal plants needs to be ensured.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Power has advised Power Generating Companies to enhance the coal production from their captive mines. During the Inter-Ministerial Committee meeting held on June 2 to review captive mines which are producing and likely to start production in FY 2022-23, Government of Rajsathan had informed that RRVUNL has not been able to make any progress due to protests in mining areas of Parsa East and Kanta Basan (PEKB), Parsa Mines and Kente Extension coal blocks located in your state,” read Power Secretary Alok Kumar’s letter to Chhattisgarh Chief Secretary Amitabh Jain on June 15.
Kumar also noted that Rajasthan has already received all the clearances required for commencing mining operations on Phase-II land of PEKB open cast mine and Parsa open cast mine from the governments of India and Chhattisgarh.
While Rajasthan would have met its electricity demands cost effectively, the coal mining would have also benefited Chhattisgarh by generating revenue through royalty, taxes, employment for villagers and advancement of the local economy.
Tired of their long wait, project affected people of Surguja and Surajpur districts of Chhattisgarh have also repeatedly written to senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel to allow Rajasthan to carry on with its mining projects for their livelihood.
They appealed to them to keep ‘activists’ frequenting Raipur away from their villages. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has repeatedly requested the centre besides his party high command Sonia Gandhi and colleague Baghel for their intervention besides visiting Raipur in person to seek Chhattisgarh government’s support.
Agitated by the aggressive criticism, Baghl asked project opponents to switch-off lights and air conditioners at their homes if they are really against coal mining in the state. Obviously, critics are silent and continue to enjoy perks of uninterrupted electricity in urban areas.
It is worth mentioning that the per capita electricity consumption in India stands at about 1200 units a year as against the global average of about 3200 units. India ranks far behind in terms of per capita electricity consumption compared to other BRIC nations. Although India is the world’s fastest growing market for unpredictable solar power, coal is going to remain relevant to ensure power for all in the world’s second most populated nation. Indians consumed a record about 2.10 lakh MW of electricity this summer and utilities cannot meet such burgeoning power demand without coal.
The logjam is setting an undesired precedent for energy-starved India, where the state-owned Coal India – the world’s largest coal producer – floated a tender last month to import coal. The move was a shocker for the nation. The CIL proposal, once again highlighted why India must cut the red tape and mine the coal available within the country that has the world’s fifth largest coal reserve.
(Shantanu Guha Ray is a Wharton-trained journalist and award-winning author. He lives in Delhi with his wife and two pets. He won the 2018 Crossword award for his book, Target, which probed the NSEL payment crisis.)