India has the world’s fourth largest coal reserves, but trying to access them is like trying to get beer out of a dry town in the midst of a swinging party.
India needs coal. Whether you like the environmentally polluting stuff or not, half of its population doesn’t have electricity. That’s 500 million people who have to cook dinner on open fires, wash clothes by hand and get their entertainment crowded around shared TVs. And if India wants to progress and build homes and factories to improve everyone’s life – it needs more electricity and coal is the cheapest and easiest energy source around.
So it makes sense that India is the world’s fourth largest coal importer, right? Well, here’s the irony: India has coal, oodles of it, not high quality but the kind its power plants can cope with – yet it can’t access much of it.
The root of the problem is the oft applied phrase “land acquisition”. India is heavily populated; there are people everywhere; those people don’t always want to move aside for modernisation, especially if it upsets their arable land, that is their immediate livelihood. Discussions of long-term benefits often fail to resonate, especially when some power-hungry politicians manipulate land disputes to their advantage.
But it’s not just that, at every twist and turn of trying to access coal there are convoluted, hair-pulling roadblocks.