By Renuka Saroha and Chandan Khanna, independent researchers, India
Just last month, India became the fourth nation in the world to have the capability of taking out satellites in outer space by testing its Anti Satellite Missile codenamed “Mission Shakti”. In 2014 it became the only nation to enter the orbit of Mars in the first attempt.
Yet government members in Australia believe India needs the outdated technology of coal-based electricity generation.
Michelle Landry MP, a member of the federal government representing Northern Queensland – near the Adani mega mine’s planned location – argues that coal from Adani´s proposed monster mine in Australia “will help women and families that are cooking over open fires in huts”.
This statement reflects what we call the outdated and racist “White women’s burden” mentality, and it is factually wrong. Coal will not replace cow dung or firewood in Indian kitchens, primarily because 93% of total households in the country now have access to cooking gas.
As scientifically proven, coal will add million tonnes of CO2 and other harmful gasses to the atmosphere, accelerating climate change and threatening human well-being. Burning coal will pollute our rivers, dry our water systems, and pollute our air.
In 2010–11, 111 coal power plants with an installed capacity of 121 GW, generated an estimated 580 ktons of particulates with diameter less than 2.5 μm (PM2.5). These emissions resulted in an estimated 80,000 to 115,000 premature deaths and 20.0 million asthma cases from exposure to PM2.5 pollution, which cost the Indian public and the government an estimated INR 16,000 to 23,000 crores (USD 3.2 to 4.6 billion) – even more than the amount of Australian public money Ms Landry wants to throw at an Indian billionaire’s pet pollution project.
Burning more coal in India will not help people “with open fires” with their cooking, and in fact it will only hurt the health of people “in huts”. Combining this with the poor track record of fly ash management in India, along with the high ash content of brown coal, any further commitment to coal infrastructure is going to push India towards a health catastrophe. Adding further injury to the wound, there’s the shoddy environmental and social track record of the Adani Group. The chances are the local community in India will oppose any new coal-fired power station proposed by Adani.
India is the third largest energy producer in the world and it has known about coal power for over 100 years – yet 31 million households are without proper access to electricity.
If coal were the solution to energy poverty, wouldn’t it have worked by now?
As per the government’s report, all villages and cities of India are now connected to the grid. Yet on average, rural India faces power deficit of 14-16 hrs in a day. This clearly shows that coal-based power generation and distribution has not worked. Villages which are so remote that it takes days to reach, villages with populations of less than 100 families will continue to be failed by the current system, as it is “economically unviable” to billionaires like Mr Adani to connect them to the national grid.
India does not need coal from Australia to come out of the dark. We need to empower a billion people – not a billionaire.
We need to harness our own solar and wind energy to help people light up their lives. We need decentralised bio gas plants and small-scale hydro, and well ventilated households to continue cooking our cuisine. Replacing cow dung with coal will not help anyone.
Like our lead over Australia in the space race, India is investing heavily in renewable energy and is amongst the largest renewable energy producers in the world. Delhi’s Metro system will soon be the world’s first public metro system to run on 100% renewable source. A metro is a public transport system built for people, rather than a private rail line for a mining company. We need technology and solutions that will allow all of us to thrive based on principles of just transition, dignity, equity and sustainability. Ms Landry’s comments are miles off that.
India is no longer the land of snake charmers and bare footed people.
We are moving towards renewables at an unprecedented rate, an epicentre for global innovation.
Given Michelle Landry seems intent to lecture us on what would be good for India, let us also offer her some unsolicited advice.
How about you focus on your constituency and their well-being? Such as the potential destruction of sacred sites of Indigenous Peoples, the poisoning of water tables, extinction of local species, and the existential threat to her country’s most iconic natural park the Great Barrier Reef in exchange for a completely mechanised coal mine for a foreign company.
And the only justification you can give is the interests of the perceived poor people in India? Indian philosophy and culture does not allow us to benefit from others destruction.
We do not want anything that will destroy pristine ecosystems, take away land from Indigenous people and cause pains to our brothers and sisters in a far away land.