Why in News: In a knee-jerk reaction to the ongoing power shortage crisis, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change has eased environmental norms for coal mining.
- Granted some coal mines an exemption from environmental clearance and public consultation for an expansion by a further 10% of their existing capacity. This is a further relaxation of an earlier exemption that granted expansion of up to 40%.
- The move: a special dispensation to counter the coal shortage to meet the ongoing steep rise in power demand.
Coal accounts for nearly 75 per cent of India’s power generation and power plants account for over three-fourths of the over one billion tonnes of annual coal consumption.
India’s electricity demand jumped 15% in April 2022 compared to the same month in 2021.
- A bounce-back in demand – With office spaces, and factories resuming in full force as Covid cases remain low, demand for electricity has spiked.
- The early onset of summer was exacerbated by record-breaking heatwaves across northern India
- Russia’s war in Ukraine disrupted trade flows and crippled supply amid additional demand from Europe.
- Record high prices of imported coal: Plants designed to operate on imported low-ash coal are suffering due to the record high prices of imported coal.
- Extremely low utilization of a total of 17GW of such plants has been another obstacle to meeting the high demand.
- The shortage of trains to transport coal is exacerbating a fuel supply crisis
- Railways face the challenge of hauling coal from mines to plants across the country over distances up to 1,500 km.
- Continues to face the pressure of managing passenger freights versus coal freights, both of which run on the same lines.
- Lack of coordination between the Ministries – Coal, Railways and Power
- Delayed payments and mounting debts in the power sector
The supply-demand mismatch has caused brownouts all across India. The current crisis has more to do with the shortage of coal stockpiles at coal-based power plants and coal transportation logistics than volumes of coal mined.
Power cuts are not the only concern at the moment.
- The rising mercury could lead to serious health complications, deaths, water shortage and more.
- Put blue-collar workers — including rickshaw drivers, street vendors, construction workers, delivery people — at greater risk since they are usually working out in the sun.
- Also leads to increased fire incidents in jungles, important buildings and hospitals
India’s Coal Production
- India’s domestic coal production grew by 8.5% to 777 million tonnes (mt) in FY22 from 716 mt in FY21.
- Coal production in April 2022 was 29% higher compared to the same month last year
- But the coal dispatch volumes only increased by 9%. Even then, plants have failed to maintain the necessary coal stockpiles.
Is it the correct move?
- Exempting coal-mine expansions from proper environmental and social impact assessment is not a long-term solution for power-supply security.
- Could have severe social and economic impacts on indigenous communities living near the coal mines as well as the flora and fauna surrounding the mines.
The Way Forward
The current crisis presents an opportunity to accelerate the commissioning of clean energy capacity.
- Policies to increase the uptake of distributed and rooftop solar PV, which could be built faster without putting pressure on transmission networks, will provide better outcomes.
- Small and medium industries (SMEs), educational institutes, banks, hospitals and residential communities will benefit from reducing their dependence on the grid and by producing their own electricity and selling some back to the grid.
- There is a strong case for the government to give a further push to distributed solar to protect India’s economic activities from frequent power outages.
- Ramping up of production capacity
- Hospitals across country should set up hospitals to set up special wards for heat stroke and other heat-related diseases.
Source: Financial Express