India is about to move ahead with coal mining in the heavily forested central-eastern region of the country. This, despite the fact that the industry has had a negative impact elsewhere, destroying large tracts of forests in critical wildlife corridors. According to Greenpeace India, mining is threatening tiger habitats in Maharashtra and cutting off the forest corridors tigers use to roam.
Though India is pushing ahead with renewable energy initiatives, it is still very reliant on dirty fossil fuels such as coal. As reported by Businessweek, a group of Indian ministers agreed to allow companies to seek approval to mine coal in some dense forest areas, overturning an environment ministry ban. The decision will benefit companies such as Coal India, the world’s largest producer of the commodity.
Coal mining plans in this area had been on hold since 2009, due to efforts by then-Minister of the Environment and Forest, Jairam Ramesh to preserve wildlife and trees. Ramesh had been blamed for delaying mine expansion. Yet in June 2011, one year after declaring the coalfields of the Chhattisgarh region would not be open to miners, Ramesh granted clearance. (Shortly thereafter he moved, or was forced out, and became Minister of Rural Development)
As the coal industry pushes to open up more areas, it goes without saying that it will be unfortunate for tigers and other species, as well as local communities.The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations are especially concerned for the state of Andhra Pradesh. There, the scale of coal expansion has left local communities to face a violent onslaught of land acquisition and displacement, corruption and intimidation, and toxic levels of pollution.
No country will get off fossil fuels anytime soon. But hopefully more attention and government resources can be focused on solar power to seriously begin the transition off of coal and oil. Earlier this month India announced that it would generate 2 GW (2,000 MW) of solar power by March 2013.
Furthering solar and other renewable sources would be a win-win for India, and the health of its communities and the environment.