Even as the Supreme Court is chiding the Central Bureau of Investigation over “shoddy investigation” in the multi-crore coal scam and unruly scenes becoming a regular feature at the ongoing Parliament session over the same issue, a documentary released in the Capital recently questioned the country’s over-reliance on coal as a power generator and its various negative consequences.
Journalist Paranjoy Guha Thakurta’s documentary film Coal Curse is a 43-minute expose of the political economy of coal in contemporary India, focusing on the issue of corruption as exposed by the Coalgate scam. It then moves on to observe the micro-level consequences of coal mining in the Singrauli region in Central India, telling the story of displacement, devastation and despair. It questions the glaring paradox in India’s electricity hub, Singrauli, from where big cities like Delhi draw close to 15 per cent of their electricity needs.
“Coal is basic to the working of the economy but it comes at a grave cost and the consequences of coal mining can be seen in Singrauli where the livelihoods of many, especially those belonging to indigenous tribal communities have been irreparably damaged by coal mining. Singrauli as it exists today has become a metaphor for much of what has gone wrong with India’s development paradigm,” says Mr. Thakurta.
A debate on the issue of corruption followed the screening of the film. Former Coal Secretary P.C. Parakh, considered as a whistleblower of the Coalgate scam, said during his tenure as the Coal Secretary, he had made the proposal for a transparent bidding system for allocation of the coal blocks and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, as the then Union Minister of Coal, approved it. However, both the then Ministers of State for Coal — Dasari Narayan Rao and then Shibu Soren (who subsequently returned as the Cabinet Minister) — were not in favour of open bidding and repeatedly tried to scuttle the proposal. “In my view, there was an attempt to keep the bidding system in suspended animation till all the good blocks have been allocated and nothing worthwhile is left to be given through bidding,” he remarked.
Energy solutions were also discussed by the panellists highlighting the fact that the primary roadblock impeding investments of scale in the renewable energy sector is a serious policy lacuna, rather than technical issues. The point that the important role of energy efficiency in bringing down the demand for coal has been left largely unexplored by the government was also raised during the debate.
Former Union Power Minister Suresh Prabhu, former Secretary to Finance and Power Ministries EAS Sarma, lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan, former Advisor to Planning Commission Shekhar Singh, head of the Climate and Energy campaign in Greenpeace India Vinuta Gopal were part of the panel discussion.
“The country is poised at a juncture where it can make a choice on the type of energy infrastructure it wants to invest in for the future. The era of cheap coal is over. With renewable energy prices dropping and the price of coal constantly on the rise, the differences between the two are quickly evening out. Aiming to achieve its twin objective of providing energy access to over 300 million people who have no access to electricity and to sustain its long-term economic growth aspiration, India needs to diversify its energy generation by mainstreaming renewable energy combined with energy efficiency measures. Given the energy security and energy independence that only renewable energy can offer us, and the destruction that coal mining wreaks, the answer seems obvious,” Arundhati Muthu, climate and energy campaigner, Greenpeace India said.