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India’s Under-Utilized Coal Mines

Context

According to Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a company that tracks global fuel-source utilisation, India’s coal mines use only two-thirds of their capacity on average, with some large mines using only 1%. This means that 99 of India’s coal mine projects, which are expected to produce 427 MTPA (million tonnes per annum), are superfluous. This also implies that new coal mines would be ineffective in addressing short-term supply constraints.

Relevance

GS Paper 3: Infrastructure: Energy, Ports, Roads, Airports, Railways Etc.

Mains Question

Despite being a member of Gondwanaland, India’s mining industry contributes significantly less to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Discuss. (150 words)


About Coal:

  • Coal is a type of fossil fuel found in sedimentary rocks and is also known as ‘Black Gold.’
  • Coal – a traditional source of energy that is widely available, has shorter gestation periods, and has lower capital costs than hydel and nuclear plants.

Classification of Coal

  • Coal classification based on carbon content:
    • Anthracite (carbon content 80-95%, found in small quantities in J&K).
    • Bituminous (has a carbon content of 60-80% and can be found in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, and Madhya Pradesh).
    • Lignite (high moisture content, 40 to 55% carbon content, found in Rajasthan, Lakhimpur (Assam), and Tamil Nadu).
    • Peat (which contains less than 40% carbon and is in the process of being converted from organic matter (wood) to coal).
  • On a time scale: Gondwana coal (roughly 98% of India’s total coal reserves), Tertiary coal.

Coal reserves in India (by state):

  • Jharkhand: Jharkhand ranks first with 83.15 billion tonnes of reserves (more than 26% of India’s total reserves).
  • Odisha: The state of Odisha ranks second in terms of coal reserves (with over 24% of the country’s total reserves and 15% of total coal production).
  • Chhattisgarh: Chhattisgarh has the third largest coal reserve in India, accounting for approximately 17% of total coal reserves. However, the state leads the nation in coal production.
  • Other states with significant coal reserves include West Bengal (11% of total Indian coal reserves), Madhya Pradesh (8%), Andhra Pradesh (7%), Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Background

  • At least twice last year, India experienced severe coal crises, with more than 100 of the country’s 285 thermal power plants seeing their coal stocks fall below the critical 25% required stock. It fell below 10% in over 50 plants, causing power outages in several states including Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, and Madhya Pradesh. The recently released Global Energy Monitor (GEM) report examined annual reports from Coal India and its subsidiaries, the world’s largest coal producer.

The Important Highlights of GEM Report

  • The GEM report emphasises that capacity constraints have not been cited as a reason for Coal India’s failure to meet production targets.
    • Instead, it blamed a lack of output on competition from renewables, infrastructure gridlock, and land-use concerns.
    • There are clear warning signs against massive coal mining expansion, but the Indian government is ignoring them.
    • India’s planned new coal mine capacity of 427 MTPA is second only to China’s 596 MTPA.
    • Under construction coal mines threaten to displace at least 165 villages and affect 87,630 families, roughly half of whom live in tribal communities.
    • 22,686 ha of agricultural land and 19,297 ha of forest land
    • Over one million people’s daily water needs (as the new mines, 91% of which are planned for high-risk or extreme water-risk zones, will consume at least 168,041 kilolitres of water per day), at a time when the country is experiencing severe water stress.
    • Following India’s Prime Minister’s announcement of a net zero target for 2070, these new mines will o Increase India’s likelihood of stranded assets, o Delay a clean energy future, and o Have irreversible effects on India’s rural communities and environments.
    • In some major mining regions, such as Jharkhand and Odisha, the industry has more than 100 million tonnes of unused capacity at active mine sites, accounting for more than 40% of unused mine capacity, implying that new mines will not solve the industry’s long-standing problems.
  • The irony of this expansion is that by opening new mines today, the sector’s weaknesses and inefficiencies may be exacerbated tomorrow, especially as competition from renewables and land use conflicts emerge.

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December 2022
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