India Inherits the Black Legacy of Coal

Coal War fuelled by the Government? Source: ENVIS

“So give me the secret, man-cub, clue me what to do… Give me the power of man’s red flower so I can be like you…” King Louie, the ape king, wanted to be as powerful as human being, but he didn’t know the secret of man’s red flower. 

That very red flower, fire, has put the super ape, human, way ahead of others in the animal kingdom. Ability to control fire by ancient human species made them able to move to colder regions, fight other animals and revolutionised the system of cooking to maintain the food ration.

Beginning some 1.0 Million Years Ago (MYA), when Homo erectus, the ancient Homo range from approx. 1.7 MYA to approx. 0.2 MYA, learned the skill to control fire and use it for its survival. 

This was definitely one of the most important milestones of human evolution. With the control on fire, ancient human started spreading over the colder parts of the planet, evolved cooking procedure to accumulate more nutrition from food and had an edge over other animals while competing and struggling for existence. 

That eventually helped human being to be the most influential creature of the Holocene. That was the beginning of human urge to control natural phenomena for its own comfort.

Evolution of fuel was also as important as the usage of tools and tackles and metals in the history of human evolution. It took a very little time to understand that the use of coal as fuel would emit much more heat than wood. 

So, the overwhelming popularity of coal as fuel was inevitable with the increasing usage of metals and with the increasing demand of coal, mines started being modernised.

We have evidences of usage of coal from Fusion of China as fuel to melt copper in the 10th Century BC (approx.). Except two to three, all the modern times’ coal fields of England and Wales were discovered and exploited in Latin Britain in 1st and 2nd century AD. 

Soon after easily accessible coal got exhausted due to overuse and man started extracting underground coal by means of shaft-mining or adit to meet the ever-increasing demand. But, socio-economically, the real surge in demand and importance of coal in occurred after the Industrial Revolution. With the rise of capitalism, supply of coal became the historical reason of imperialist aggression.

As the importance of coal increased in the economy and as well as in the society, it happened to be the cause of exploitation. This eventually fuelled a several coal mine centric socio-economic conflicts in many parts of the world. 

For an example, we can consider the forty years long “Coal War” in America that happened between the last decade of 19th Century and 3rd decade of 20th Century, where many organised and unorganised armed conflicts took place. At the same time, the miner’s movement got the pace in many countries outside America.

In 1920, Pan-England national coal mine strike was called for minimum wages. In some places, those movements turned into the uprising against the colonial regime. In the mid of 19th century, British and other Europeans started building heavy and medium industries in India. 

During this period, Railways, and coal mines were established and expanded along with cotton and jute industries in India. British imperialism introduced the colonial capitalist exploitation in India along with the benefits of Industrial Revolution that led to the development of labour movements in the country.

After the WWI, labour movement changed its characteristics worldwide and there was no exception in India also. In 1920, Indian Colliery Employees’ Union and Jamshedpur Labour Union were constructed, and they took part in Indian Freedom Struggle as a part of organised labour movement in India. In a few words, coal has become the apple of discord since the industrial revolution. 

Of course, the limitless profiteering demand of the capitalist production system and the ever-increasing exploitation to achieve the same, was the reason behind. The imperialism changed its face after the WWII and the coal business also changed its way along with. Following the global trend, India nationalised it’s all coal mines by the year of 1973, after 25 years of its independence.

But it made a very little difference in the coal market and its system of exploitation. In some cases, wages became a little reasonable for colliery employees, but the colonial bureaucratic exploitation still prevailed among the various levels of colliery staffs, where the hierarchical social exploitations were the major. In contemporary times, another massive problem surfaced. 

A trend of increase in the average temperature of the earth has been evidenced as the excessive increment of Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere occurred due to the uncurbed use of coal and other fossil fuels and destruction of natural forests for establishment of heavy and medium industries.

This time colonialism also changed its modus operandi and started building new economic colonies investing in newly born countries in the name of development. Along with the economic exploitation, this profiteering neo colonial regime has brought down abominable atrocities on the traditional forest dwellers by establishing dominance over their forest, land and water. 

Displacement and socio-economic oppression on the natives, in the name development projects and urbanisation, has become regular, and on the other hand this vaguely defined modernisation caused severe damage to the environment and nature. In this situation, being the primary source of energy, as coal has its enormous reserves in India, acquisition of land for new coal mines and thermal power stations, elimination of indigenous people and indiscriminate destruction of forests, hills and rivers has become normal.

India has gained a major share in the global market of coal due to the growing demand of energy for its 1.3 billion population, and the huge bituminous coal reserves it is having. 

If we only consider the statistics of the last financial year India was the 2nd largest coal producing and importing country and the 3rd largest coal consuming country as well. In financial year 2018-19, India produced a total of 730.35 million tonne of coal and imported a sum of 235.24 million tonne. 

At the same time, India’s consumption was of 463.28 million tonnes. When, being a part of International Solar Alliance, we are talking about the renewable energy, 78.37% of the total energy generated in India in last three years, were from coal fired power plants. From these data, we can easily estimate the importance of India in the global market of coal.

Though India doesn’t have a significant anthracite coal reserves, and grossly depends on its import from Australia, the huge stock of bituminous coal in the coalfields of India has always been admirable for the rest of the world. At the end of the last century, the rise of neo liberalism has also influenced the Indian economy. At the very beginning of this century, India again tried to privatize its coalfields. 

But all those efforts were in vain, as only one of the 57 coal blocks, which were leased to the private players across the country, managed to survive and operate successfully.

But the ultra-rightist government that has come into power in 2014, with the popular slogan of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas” (Everybody’s participation in everybody’s development, which is basically the 17th Goal of SDGs, i.e. “Partnerships for the goals”), never wanted to keep the alluring Indian Coal market out of the capitalist exploitation. 

So, the government has allowed 100% Foreign Direct Investment in Coal India in the mid of 2018 and thrown away country’s coal mines as a chunk of flesh in front of the profiteer pack of wolves.

But the discontent, among the marginal people of India, regarding coal and coal fired power plants is quite noticeable for last few decades. Eviction of indigenous populace, clueless felling of natural forests and horrible pollution in the name of development are the main reasons behind it. 

In last one decade, about fifty outrages took place across the country, protesting against new coal mines and thermal power stations. 

 Its major parts were in the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra, Telangana, and Karnataka etc., which are amidst with natural forests and populated with large settlements of traditional forest dwellers.

Protest against the Mahan Coal Block in Madhya Pradesh at the beginning of 2nd decade of this century and the ongoing protest over Talabira coal block, are some of the most recent of those. In both the cases, the government wanted to give away our natural resources, to the multinationals and national large capitals. State repressive terrorism have been brought down to shatter all the protests. 

Government statistics reveals at least 28 deaths in about 60 suppression operations, to disrupt protests against coal mines and thermal power plants in India in last ten years. In this scenario, government’s announcement for new 42 coal blocks and 100% FDI in Indian coal sector may lead to a new “Coal WAR” to protect the rights of people in India.

Dwaipayan Ghosh

Dwaipayan Ghosh is an Electrical Engineer working in Extra High Voltage Energy Transmission System for fifteen years and a Natural History Commentator.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Tilak Chronicle and TTC Media Pvt Ltd.


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