More Coal Mining or Saving Tigers? India Wrestles with the Choice

Maharashtra Forest Department officials have rejected proposed development of an open-cast coal mine in an increasingly diminishing area of Central India forest. Greenpeace India and other organizations have joined with local residents in opposing the plan. They’re now circulating a petition on the Web calling on the Prime Minister and national government to protect all Central India’s forests from coal mining, and to further investigate a scandal involving the PM, government and the nation’s powerful coal mining and industrial companies.

Saving forests and the critically endangered Asian tiger or more coal for electrical power and industry growth? Both developing and developed market economies, governments and societies have faced such choices since the dawn of the modern industrial era. They’ve become much more critical, and sensitive, in recent times, however, as societies search for better, more sustainable ways to develop economically without using up the natural resources and severely degrading the natural habitat and ecosystems on which all life depends.

India’s growing population, economy and pressing energy needs
Growing rapidly both in terms of population and economy, India suffers from a severe shortage of electricity generation capacity. Moreover, its current electricity grid and distribution infrastructure are in dire need of investment and upgrades, as this year’s massive blackout, in which some 700 million were left without power, demonstrated.

India and other large, populous industrializing nations are going to account for most of the forecast growth in energy consumption in coming decades. Continued reliance on fossil fuels for the bulk of new generation capacity will just about assure that international and domestic efforts to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and lessen the increasing externalized and socialized costs of climate change and global warming will fall woefully short.

India and China alone are expected to account for a 33 percent increase in global energy demand over the next 25 years, according to the International Energy Administration’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook. India’s energy demand is forecast to more than double during the next quarter century, with coal and oil maintaining their shares in the primary energy mix, which combined accounts for meeting some 2/3 of total energy consumption.

The IEA forecasts that India will displace the U.S. as the world’s second largest coal consumer by 2025, with electricity demand projected to more than triple to more than 3,200 terawatt-hours by 2035. That implies the need to add more than 650-gigawatts of new power generation capacity over the period. Coal use is expected to nearly triple.

Forests, tigers, bears and coal scams…oh my!
In a more than symbolic effort to lead opposition to the coal mine development proposal, Greenpeace India’s Brikesh Singh has been living in that part of the Central India forest that’s being threatened by the proposed coal mine. Greenpeace India activists have also been demonstrating outside Coal Ministry offices in Delhi.

Nearly 35 percent of the 1,700 endangered wild tigers—as well as populations of endangered leopards and bears–still alive today in India live in Central India’s forests, Greenpeace India notes. According to the coal mining opposition groups “the government’s plan to mine coal in the forests of Central India will destroy wildlife and the livelihoods of thousands of communities dependent on these forests.”

The environmental activism organization’s India chapter, other groups and local residents are now circulating their petition to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for signature online. For every one, Greenpeace India adds one centimeter of cloth to a ribbon that the group intends to use to cordon off the threatened area of forest. As of last week, the cloth stretched 2 kilometers (1.25 miles). That amounts to 200,000 signatures and counting.

Singh plans to leave the forest in October with what Greenpeace India anticipates will be more than 300,000 signatures on the petition. He intends to deliver it by hand to the Prime Minister (PM), with the request that he protect all of Central India’s forest. Its delivery has been planned to coincide with India PM’s scheduled address to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) in Hyderabad.

In addition to being home to a substantial percentage of India’s wild tigers and other endangered and threatened species, nearly half of the forest-dependent communities in India look to these forests as a way of life and livelihood.

They also point out that cutting down Central India forests and burning coal will release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, adding to the Greenhouse Effect and rising global temperatures. Purusing such a course of action, moreover, would be in direct contradiction to India and other developing nations’ international pledges to reduce carbon and GHG emissions even as they pursue further economic development.

Adding insult to injury, they add, is emerging news of a large-scale coal scam involving the government. Now dubbed “Coalgate,” a report by India’s Comptroller and Auditor General says that the Coal Ministry, which was then headed by the Prime Minister, allocated coal blocks at throw-away prices to 25 of India’s largest industrial conglomerates, costing the taxpayer Rs 1.86 lakh crores ($34.8 billion). An earlier leak of the report put the figure even higher, at Rs.10.67 lakh crores ($212 billion), Greenpeace India notes.

[Image credit: Wildlife Tours of India]

An independent journalist, researcher and writer, my work roams across the nexus where ecology, technology, political economy and sociology intersect and overlap. The lifelong quest for knowledge of the world and self -- not to mention gainful employment -- has led me near and far afield, from Europe, across the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa and back home to the Americas. LinkedIn: andrew burger Google+: Andrew B Email:

4 responses

Leave a Reply