Of India’s installed power generation capacity of 331,118 megawatts (MW), 58%, or around 193,426MW, is fuelled by coal. Gas-based and hydropower projects account for 25,150MW and 44,765MW, respectively.
Coal, one of the key polluters dominates India’s energy mix. Indian economy is greatly dependent on coal, home to one of the largest coal reserves in the world. Surprisingly India is also the country with an outrageous number of power cuts. We consume electricity which is produced in power plants specifically located near forests or coastal areas, responsible for damaging the ecosystems along with innumerable other violations, such as-
i. Agriculture land acquired to be converted into a toxic wasteland,
ii. Alarming pollution levels
iii. Animal corridors disturbed
iv. Water resources wasted in an already water-scarce nation.
v. Inadequate compensation
vi. Destruction of traditional livelihoods
vii. Public health crises
viii. Climate change
ix. Openly dumping of waste like fly ash.
According to World Bank data on air pollution, world’s 14 out of 15 most polluted cities are in India. The issue of climate change requires a shift from the energy produced from the coal power plant towards Green Energy sources keeping in tandem with the Paris Agreement 2015 to limit the greenhouse emissions and control the rising temperature. But the Government keeps increasing the deadline for the thermal power plants to adhere to the pollution standards. The recent notification by the Central Electricity Authority gives 300 thermal plants time between 2020-2024 to adopt clean technologies instead of doing it by the 2017-year end. Evidently, the financial health of thermal power plants is more important than the health of millions of Indians.
Thermal Power Plants are essentially water intensive and polluting, marked with a high rate of Carbon, Sulphur oxide, Nitrogen, particulate matter emissions, that can adversely lead to respiratory reactions. They put high pressure on the resources thereby worsening the air and water pollution. The good news is, that we can limit the environmental and social damage if the companies start taking concrete efforts to follow the Environmental Clearance guidelines without flouting. But even if, they are working in a regulated framework, the impacts are leading towards the destruction of mind, space and livelihoods. There is systematic injustice being inflicted on the people with regards to power production that needs immediate attention to safeguard the interest of affected people.
The purpose of this report is to highlight the irregularities in the power sector by thermal projects, to be particular, and how the livelihoods and rights of the people are minimised in the decision-making process. The report gives a brief on twenty-two coal based thermal power plants operating/in-progress in India with a capacity above 1,000 MW. The power plants are spread across ten states, Maharashtra, Bihar, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh; ranging from Singrauli industrial cluster to lush green Western Ghats in the South, from desert land in Rajasthan to the Gulf of Mannar on the East coast.
All the case studies had one thing in common, land losers. The poor villagers, who had to give away their land to haste the development project, subsequently, beg and protest for adequate compensation, jobs, implementation of CSR funds in order to get a fraction of their lost lives back. The “Development” agenda is forced onto the affected communities to incorporate the interest of the big companies. The plants get constant support from the banks who continue giving them loans without paying much attention to the damage it may cause. Why is no proper caution given while lending loans? Also, are loans in the name of energy creation really benefitting when there are safer options available?
There is a need to bring change in the way coal power plants are operationalized which receive funding from all major national and international banks. Coal financing should be responsible and transparent and not how we see later in the case studies. Banks continue to invest in coal when there is a high possibility of banks exposing to bad loans, as the data on Non-Performing Assets (NPA) shows. The report consists of thirteen such power plants who have been declared as financially ‘stressed’ with Indian banking system dealing from bad loan crises. The major issues with power plant turning stressed can be associated with,
i. Non-availability of coal,
ii. Lack of Power Purchase Agreements,
iii. The inability of the promoter to infuse the equity & working capital, and
iv. Regulatory and contractual issues.
Apart from the rising NPAs/stressed assets, there has to be a sense of accountability when financing loans to support projects involving unsustainable fuel responsible for climate change, workers death, air & water pollution. The case studies expose financial institutions whose funding towards coal-based power plants in India is having negative environmental and social impacts. There is an issue with the power sector which needs to be fixed instead of building more plants. We have to clean this sector to clean pollution.