India is standing at very interesting juncture today. From here onwards, there are two paths that can pave the way forward. The first one is to continue with the age old conventional dirty energy sources such as coal, while ignoring the following fatal damages:

·    Destruction of lives and livelihoods of the citizens of the country through land displacements

·    Destruction of wildlife habitat through fragmentation and forest destruction

·    Air, water and environment pollution and resultant consequences on human health

·    Destruction of freshwater resources through water diversion and  forest diversion

Despite this, the second way is to lead the way for a cleaner and sustainable energy choice, i.e., renewable energy. This would not only safeguard the wildlife, people’s health, forest cover and water resources but at the same time, can also enable India to lead the way towards a sustainable future.

On Tuesday, 6th September 2016, the Indian coal industry held a conference with the theme, “Coal: Sustaining the Momentum for India”. The agenda was clear - to brand coal as a sustainable energy source which will sustain the momentum for the country’s growth.

All over the world, there is a growing consensus around the fact that coal is a fuel which belongs to the past. To simply put it, it is unsustainable and damaging. Its use and expansion in the future can only create problems to environmental, ecological as well as the human systems. And therefore, Greenpeace India had to speak out against this. On the same day and at the same venue, Greenpeace India held a press conference, “Breaking the Myths on Indian Coal Sustaining the Momentum”, to enable people to discuss and talk about the possibility of an alternative to coal, an alternative to the next door conference proposed and designed by the coal industry and government stakeholders.

The recent statement by the Power Minister Piyush Goyal also suggests the same when proposing that India holds surplus coal and power currently. The statement comes in at a time when even though in the last two years India witnesses the highest ever growth in coal production of 7.4 crore tonnes and yet the Coal India Limited, the biggest coal mining company in the country, has been unable to sell all the coal due to sluggish demand from the power plants.

A recent article (2016) states that, “The power ministry has scaled down its projection of demand from the earlier estimated 289 giga watts (GW) to 239 GW by 2022. The new projection is based on an estimated annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of eight per cent. The earlier demand estimate was made in 2013, when it was assumed that demand would touch 199 GW; it is currently 155 GW.”

The demand for coal is decreasing and coal as a viable energy choice is phasing out all across the globe as well as in India too. The measures towards energy efficiency at the end use, i.e., the consumers, as well as at the transmission and production facilities will further reduce the growth rate of energy demand in India. We do realize that we do need a sustained growth in energy sector and that India has a long way to go in terms of renewables fulfilling these demands.

Nevertheless, the ambitious commitments for 175 GW renewable energy within the stipulated time period (by 2022) has a lot of potential to sustain the growth which is required for the Indian energy sector. This is possible without any more coal power plant installations, which will eventually and most certainly help in avoiding the deterioration of human health, community rights, wildlife habitat fragmentation as well as threatening our freshwater resources.

Knowing the alternatives that we have, is India ready to make the right choice?

Do we just want to sustain the energy growth by destroying other pillars of sustainability and the country’s future?

Or do we want to sustain the energy growth while moving towards an overall sustainability, in terms of economic, environmental, social and ecological progress?

The choice is simple but one which has to be made quickly, without being too late.

 

Sunil Dahiya is a Campaigner with Greenpeace India.