Indian coal reserves are so huge that they exceed internal demand and can even be exported. Yet, at all international forums, Modi says India is ready to cut its emissions and become a “leading player in the global green energy market”. But according to a press release of the Ministry of Coal on 11 December 2023, the all-India coal production in the financial years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 stood at 778.21 million tonnes (MT) and 893.19 MT (provisional) respectively. It is estimated to be 1012.14 million tonnes in 2023–2024, and it may be 1522. 04 million tonnes in 2029–2030.

The contradiction between green commitments and ground realities could not be more stark. On one hand, India talks about reducing emissions from coal, while on the other hand, its dependence on coal is increasing. And this is directly affecting the communities in the coal mining areas. Their everyday reality is far from green. The forests in their areas are being destroyed. Pollution is eating away at their lungs. And the future of the coming generations living here looks bleak.

The state of Madhya Pradesh in India is a coal-rich region. Madhya Pradesh is an important producer of minerals like diamonds, slate, pyrophyllite, diaspore, coal, limestone, copper ore and manganese. According to the Indian Minerals Yearbook 2021, there were 61 coal mines in Madhya Pradesh till 2021. On November 3, 2022, India announced its largest-ever coal mine auction with licences awarded for 141 new coal mines, including 30 in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

One of the areas most affected by the coal rush is Singrauli in the north-eastern part of Madhya Pradesh, also known as the “electricity capital of India”. This valuable area is covered with beautiful mountain caves and dense forests of trees. Sanjay Gandhi National Tiger Reserve, Hathi Path, Tribal Protected Area of Kusmi Block and Guru Ghasidas National Park are also present in and around Singrauli. But the beautiful, precious forests of Singrauli are in danger of extinction because the coal hidden in their womb invites the threat of mining to this area. For the communities here, new mines will worsen their already dire situation. They will have to face displacement many times. Today, there is no talk about the future of the people here.

Status of coal mine auction in Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh –

After the announcement of the auction of coal mines in 2022, the problems of the people of Singrauli region have increased even more. 13 coal mines have already been auctioned here and about 27 mines are likely to be auctioned in future. Adani Group has acquired at least five coal blocks in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district —  Dhirauli, Gondbahera, Uzeni East, Gondbahera Uzeni — after the Narendra Modi government opened up the region to corporates for commercial mining. (Report, See page 134) An Adani company has also been appointed as the contractor in the government-owned coal mine Suliyari. Last month (March 12, 2024) another coal block, Mara II Mahan, was also acquired by the Adani Group. All these coal blocks are contiguous —  Suliyari, Dhirauli, Mahan and Mara II Mahan. Gondbaheda, Ujheni East and Gondbaheda Ujheni are connected.

Despite being densely forested, the Modi government decided to auction the Mara II Mahan coal block. Adani Group has also acquired the nearby Bandhaura coal-fired power plant and is attempting to expand its capacity. Questions are being raised against this government for arbitrarily allowing Adani Group to expand in Singrauli. Despite there being no other bidder in the same auction, the ownership of Gondbahera Uzeni East coal block was allotted to Adani.

How did the Coal Ministry decide to give coal mines to single private bidders?

It is difficult to tell on what basis ECOS (Empowered Committee of Secretaries) took these decisions. Under the commercial coal mining system created by the government in June 2020 for private players, the government can allocate coal blocks as per its wish. These decisions are taken by a committee of secretaries of four government departments. This group of four secretaries is called the “Empowered Committee of Secretaries”. There are no public criteria available for how this committee will decide on single bidders.

On 12 October 2021, the government published a new list of mines for auction, which included Gondbahera Uzeni East, which was put up for the second time. Documents show that Adani’s subsidiary, MP Natural Resources Pvt Ltd, was the sole bidder for Gondbahera Uzeni East in this second auction. On August 12, 2022, the Coal Ministry announced the names of those 16 blocks, which were successfully auctioned. Uzeni East is also included in this list. Successful bidders were invited to enter into an agreement with the central government before developing the mines. The coal ministry has only partially disclosed the process through which it allots mines to single bidders.

The Truth About Mara II Great Coal Block Allocation?

Mara II Mahan was one of the 214 mines whose allocation was cancelled by the Supreme Court of India in September 2014. This coal block was earlier allotted to a joint venture company formed with Hindalco Industries Limited. The Mahan mining project was given environment clearance in December 2008 during the UPA government and forest clearance in February 2014. This coal block has coal reserves of 107.41 million tonnes spread over 9.8 square kilometres. However, 90% of the coal block is forest area. The Coal Ministry of the UPA government had allotted Mahan only on the condition of underground mining. But later , on June 14, 2007, the proposal to do open cast mining in Mahan was approved. It came into controversy when the acquisition of 1116 hectares of land for the 1.2 million tonne per annum project was completed.

Like the UPA government, the Modi government had also set a condition for underground mining of Mara 2 Mahan coal blocks. But it was later converted to open cast mining and was listed for auction. The mega coal block auction process was cancelled by the Modi government due to lack of bidders on July 31, 2023.

The local communities were engaged in a protracted legal battle in the courts and on the streets against the taking of their ancestral lands for coal projects and against the UPA government for allegedly granting illegal clearances. In December 2014, the Modi government itself decided not to auction Mahan despite having all the necessary approvals, as it fell under ‘undivided forests’. When the Modi government decided to include Mahan in the seventh tranche of auction for commercial coal mining in August 2023, it went against its own decision taken nine years ago.

What is the current status of coal mining in Singrauli?

Mining has started rapidly in Singrauli coal fields, forest land is being cleared on a large scale. The government granted permission to clear 259 hectares of forest land for Adani’s Suliyari coal mine in March 2022, reported Mineral Exploration and Consultancy Limited (MECL), a Government of India enterprise under the Union Ministry of Mines. Adani Group has also tried to get permission to clear 1436.19 hectares of forest land for its Dhirauli coal mine. More than half of the 10.95 square kilometer area of the Gondbahera Uzeni coal block, about 35 percent of the 11.3 square kilometer area of Gondbahera Uzeni East, is forest area. Forest land accounts for 90 per cent of the 53 square kilometres (sq km) Mara II Mahana coal block. An area of 18.23 sq km is classified as ‘very dense forest’. It is proposed to clear about 785.49 hectares of forests for Essar Group’s Bandha open cast mining project in the Singrauli coal fields.

A short distance from these coal blocks in Singrauli, near Bandhaura village, is Adani Group’s Bandhaura Ultra Super Critical Thermal Power Plant. It is being expanded at a cost of Rs 12,800 crore (US$1.5 billion). Two units of 800 MW are being added to the 1200 MW power plant. It will procure 6.5 MTPA of coal from the Dhirauli block, if required. If the agenda of Adani Group is realised then a large part of forest and agricultural land in Singrauli district can be converted into coal mines. Adani Group’s coal operations in Singrauli are sure to have an impact on the lives and livelihoods of people living in the forests.

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