In what appears to be a kneejerk reaction to an economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has opened up India’s assets and is selling off state-owned coal mines at auction.
The news contradicts India’s role in the Paris climate agreement and risks destruction of Hasdeo Arand, a dense forest in central India where one of 41 coal sites are up for auction. Although a petition objecting to the sale of the Hasdeo Arand site was successful, it was replaced with 3 new ones.
The land is important for Indian fauna and biodiversity, particularly for Elephant and Tiger reserves that are located within the forest. Not only does it spell danger for endemic and critically endangered wildlife, but it increases the likelihood of illegal poaching.
India has also been accused of human rights and environmental abuses. Human Rights Watch reported that complainants of violations were threatened and physically assaulted following complaints of groundwater and spring water pollution caused by the mining process.
Coal minister Pralhad Joshi says India needs to ‘reduce its coal import bill’ and says this can be done by auctioning.
“We are importing 250 million tonnes of coal every year because of the shortage. The Centre wants to compensate the shortage by opening up coal blocks for commercial mining..” according to Indian news media.
These developments defy India’s progress to pursue gains in the renewables sector, where it was on course to achieve 450 GW by 2030. Opening up undeveloped and existing mining sites to private investors could lead to further deregulation and increased emissions in an India that already hosts 21 of the top 30 most air-polluted cities. Last year, United Nations’ speakers warned the world has only 11 years to stop irreversible climate disaster.
Featured photograph by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier