This Article is written by Palak Nigam (Currently pursuing a B.A, LLB degree from KIIT School of Law, Odisha)
There has been witnessed an immense discussion over the insufficiency of coal from the last two weeks, which may lead to power cuts or blackout.
It has been argued by many experts that the coal storage at many plants is due to various logistical and financial reasons. They also contended that such an insufficiency has become a common aspect of India’s energy scenario.
According to various environmentalists, the coal shortage is due to logistical reasons and not due to less production and it could be used by the government to weaken the laws governing the coal sector, forests, and environment.
They waned that the central government has been taking certain steps to enhance the mining sector and this shortage of coal would be used by them to enhance an unsustainable expansion of the coal sector.
In recent weeks, the insufficiency of coal and the possibility of large-scale power disruption has been the centre of great discourse in India, even the government has refused a crisis and experts have dismissed it. According to various energy sector experts, there is enough coal in India, but a few shortages could be because of settling the stages for further dilutions in essential regulations controlling the coal mining and forest sector.
Besides warnings given by the various states regarding coal shortages to power outages, the government continuously claimed that there is no coal shortage. Coal insufficiency is not a new concept to the Indian economy but it has been seen as a crisis for various years.
According to energy experts, no one may want to produce such a crisis as it is bad for politics on both the national and international level and signifies that the concern of management like railway and the dearth of a dedicated freight corridor are also some of the reasons of the shortage of coals plants in some states particularly for those cities which do not have any coal mines in their states and depends on mines of other states.
The claim of the government was that the revival of the economy and industry after the second wave of Covid-19 led to an unrivalled increase in demand and consumption of energy products like electricity. According to the ministry, the everyday consumption of electricity has reached more than four billion units per day and most demand is met by coal-fired power generation only, hence increasing dependency on coal.
The central Government claimed that the increased pressure on domestic coal is also because of a decrease in the import of coal due to reasons like import substitution and the rising process of imported coal. The efforts have been made by the central government for increasing the coal production in India and also decrease dependency on imports from other countries like Indonesia.
But because of insufficiency, the government asked thermal power generators to import coal for at least 10 % mixing with domestic coal.
WHAT IS COAL? :
Coal is one of the most abundant fossil fuels. It has its many uses like as a domestic fuel, in industries such as iron and steel, and to generate electricity. Electricity generated from coal is called Thermal power.
The coal which people are using today was found millions of years ago when huge ferns and swamps got buried under the surfaces of the earth. Therefore, Coal is termed as Buried Sunshine.
The main coal producers of the world are China, the US, Australia, Indonesia, India.
Raniganj, Jharia, Dhanbad, and Bokaro are some of the coal-producing areas in India.
Coal is divided into four categories: anthracite, bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite. These categories depend on the types and quantity of carbon present in the coal and depend on the amount of heat energy that can be produced by the coal.
REASONS FOR THE SHORTAGE OF COAL:
Explosion in Power Demand: Due to the recovery of the economy from the current pandemic linked with supply issues have developed the problem of the current coal insufficiency. Due to this, there has been seen various impacts of a sharp boom in electricity demand and the increasing price of seaborne coal.
Expanded share of Thermal Power Plants: Coal-fired thermal power plants have supplied a major proportion of enhance in demand causing the share of the thermal power in India’s power blend to increase to 66.4% from 61.9% in 2019.
Flood and Rainfall: Flood and rainfall are one of the main reasons for the coal shortages in India.
Lowering in Imports: A continuous step to decrease imports with the high international price of coal has also caused plant-cutting imports.
IMPACTS OF THE COAL SHORTAGE IN INDIA:
The importation of coal to complete domestic shortages is not an available option at present according to experts. Various shortages have been seen in the past but this time unprecedented coal is very expensive. If the crisis continues, and efflux in the amount of electricity will be faced by consumers. Retail inflation is already very high due to expensiveness in oil to food. In recent past years, due to reducing dependency on coal to meet climate targets, the production of India has lagged. If there is a coal shortage, the whole manufacturing sector like cement, steel, construction will get impacted as electricity powers everything. Some other impacts of the coal shortage in India are that it could delay the economic reopening of India. Besides this, some businesses might face downscale production and the power crisis could hit long and hard.
COAL SHORTAGE BECOME A REASON FOR THE DILUTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS :
In addition to the concerns about coal shortage and subsequent power cuts, an important concern of environmentalists has been that this concern could be used as the basis for arguments in favour of dilution of coal-related laws and also dilution of forest and environmental laws.
According to an environmental lawyer, the shortage has no connection with mines or the emergent need for new mines. However, fear is being caused that there will be a blackout to set the stage for diluting the current regulations and laws governing the coal sector and giving a huge pie to private players without addressing concerns of the communities impacted.
This concern may not be without reason as in the last year the central government pushed forward with mining reforms involving that for the coal sector in spite of serious objections raised by the mining-affected communities whose concerns were ignored.
Further, there are many protests by the local communities including people in Chhattisgarh who were resisting the opening of the Hasdeo Arand area, an area that should be left undisturbed for coal mining. The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change recently announced amendments in the Forest Conservation Act 1980. This created fear among environmentalists that the proposed amendment might result in more forest areas being opened up for projects including mining.
WHY INDIA CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT COAL:
It is not completely feasible to transformation and it is never a good plan to transition 100% to renewable without support. If any backup is available then the only transition can opt because there are many risks that have to be faced during manufacturing time.
Long-term investment in multiple power sources aside, former bureaucrats like Ms Chatterji say a crisis like the present one can be prevented with an effective strategy. According to her, there is a need for better coordination between Coal India Limited- the largest supplier of coal in the country, and other stakeholders. From ensuring smooth last-mile delivery to demanding more accountability from power companies in India, power producers must stock cola reserves, they must have a certain quantity at all times. But at last, all such inventory goes at a financial cost which is, at last, is not feasible.
STEPS THAT CAN BE TAKEN:
Ram-Up Mining: The government is operating to closely monitor stocks and also run coal India and NTPC are working to enhance results from mines to boost supply.
Supply Controls: One of the easiest solutions can be rationalizing domestic power supplies particularly in rural and semi-urban areas
Increase Imports: In spite of the financial cost, India will need to enhance its imports.
Hydro-Power Generation: The monsoon rains that have flooded coal mines are likely to enhance hydro-power generation. Large hydroelectric projects are a major electricity source of India after coal and the sector performs at its zenith around the rainy season which mainly extends from June to October.
Switch to Natural Gas Powered Generators: There could be a larger role for natural gas to play, even with global prices currently surging. In an anguished circumstance, the gas-powered fleet could help stop any extensive power outages. State-run generator NTPC Ltd., for example, has an idle capacity that can be fired up in around 30 minutes if needed and is connected to a gas grid.