Libmonster ID: IN-1268
Author(s) of the publication: S. L. RABEY


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Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Key words: India, coal industry, greenhouse gas emissions, mine accidents, underground coal gasification, supercritical wind farms

Coal traditionally occupies a dominant position in India's energy mix. This is a consequence of the period of colonial development, because the British were the first to develop coal deposits and imported the necessary technologies into the country. Up until now, India has been covering its growing energy consumption mainly through the use of coal. However, more than a decade ago, there was a shortage of this resource, and the country is forced to increase its imports. The Government of India, given the country's coal reserves, does not refuse to bet on coal in the medium term, but it is well aware of the negative environmental consequences of such a choice. The construction of modern-generation coal-fired power plants, as well as new mining methods, can reduce the impact on the environment by increasing production.

Today, India ranks 3rd in the world in terms of coal production (after China and the United States) and 5th (after the United States, Russia, China and Australia)-in terms of its reserves. In 2014, the country produced 644 million tons of coal1. British Petroleum estimates that India's coal reserves amount to 60.6 trillion tons, or 6.8% of the global total. According to the Geological Survey of India, the country's proven coal reserves are twice as high - 123.1 trillion tons 2. Based on these statistics, it can be concluded that India's coal resources are able to meet domestic consumption while maintaining its volume at the current level for 94-192 years.

The main consumer of coal in India is the electric power sector: more than 70% of the volume of coal is burned in coal-fired power plants (UES). Experts almost unanimously agree that in the long term, electricity consumption in India will grow rapidly. The growing process of electrification of the country will sooner or later make 300 million people, still deprived of access to electricity, new consumers of the main current. This will also be facilitated by the growing level of income of the population.3


In 1774, two employees of the East India Company, S. J. Heatley and John Sumner, while traveling along the Damodar River, saw how local tribal communities used coal for heating and heating their homes.4 Heatley and Sumner applied to the company's management for permission for commercial coal mining in the discovered deposit, now known as Raniganj. The East India Company ruled in the affirmative on the request, granting Heatley and Sumner exclusive mining rights while retaining 20% of the royalties. In the first year, by September 1775, the deposit produced about 100 tons of coal5.

In the following decades, the level of production was low and haphazard. Thus, in 1815-1823, India produced about 400 tons of coal per year. However, by the mid-19th century, the widespread use of steam engines led to an increase in demand for coal as an energy resource and, as a result, to an extensive increase in production. It reached 50 thousand tons in 1842, 91 thousand tons in 1846, and by the beginning of the 20th century - 6.12 million tons.6

Table 1

Coal production in India (million tons), 1974-2008








Coal mining







Compiled by: India. Mountain Encyclopedia -

page 47

In 1946, the country already produced 30 million tons 7, but the rapidly growing industry was not enough of such volumes.

By the middle of the 20th century, there was a shortage of coal. Private capital, which dominated coal mining for most of the twentieth century, did not have time to provide adequate capital investment. In addition, unscientific mining practices used by some private companies have become a matter of concern to the Government, as working conditions in the fields have been appalling.8

For these reasons, the coal industry in India was completely nationalized in 1971-1973.* After nationalization, production doubled in a decade and continued to grow at a record pace without recessions (see Table 1).


It is obvious that the central government relies mainly on coal to ensure extensive energy consumption. State - owned Coal India recently announced its plans to double production by 2020 to reach 1,000 million tons. 9 In recent years, the construction of UES has been most active. From diagr. 1 it follows that the volume of coal-fired facilities under construction is twice as large as all other power generation capacities combined. Indicators of the capacity of coal-fired and nuclear power plants approved for construction are approximately the same, but it should be borne in mind that the construction of UES is carried out in a much shorter time frame.

The quality of coal produced in India is generally low by international standards and varies considerably depending on the field. Indian coal is generally low-sulfur, with a high ash content. Its energy potential is about 30 to 50% lower than that offered by major world exporters.10 Indian coal is often mixed with imported coal to improve combustion efficiency. There are coal processing plants in the country with a total capacity of 125 million tons. However, their utilization is far from full, and the pace of construction of new plants is insufficient 11.

Despite the huge amount of proven coal reserves, India is a net importer of coal. For some time, the volume of coal imports remained symbolic: it often came from border areas, where the deposits of neighboring countries are closer than their own. But since the late 2000s (see diagr. 2) the gap between national production and consumption has become rapidly widening. In 2014, the volume of imported coal exceeded the national production of twenty years ago.

The main supplier of coal to India today is Indonesia, which is due to the similarity of coal quality and attractive prices for Indian buyers. Energy coals are imported in much smaller quantities from South Africa and Australia,

USA, Colombia and Russia 12. Import dependence, with a dominant supplier, poses a threat to India's energy security. The government's desire to increase national production is also justified from this point of view, but this raises a number of environmental, technological and social difficulties.


The coal industry has a huge negative impact on the environment. Coal is the leader among energy resources in terms of the specific amount of greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy produced.

In the last decade, there has been a growing number of scientific publications that study greenhouse gas emissions over the so-called life cycle of an energy source and take into account all related factors on the way from the well to the power grid. As evidenced by the data (see Table. 2), for coal-fired generation, the associated amount of greenhouse gas emissions is twice that of natural gas, and 50 times that of photovoltaic and geothermal technologies.

Chart 1. Electricity generation capacity under construction in India, GW.

Compiled by: India Energy Report. Enerdata 2015

* An exception was made for the coal mining operations of two private companies: Tata Stel and Indian Iron & Stee (author's note).

page 48

Figure 2. India: coal production, consumption and import, 1994-2014

Compiled from: BP Statistics Handbook 2015.

Since the quality of Indian coal is lower than the global average, the amount of emissions from its combustion is correspondingly higher. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the vast majority of wind farms in India are equipped with subcritical steam power units and are adapted to use low-quality national or Indonesian coal. The efficiency of these types of plants is low, but they exhibit the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Modern technologies and advances in materials science make it possible to create supercritical and ultra-supercritical power plants that operate at much higher pressure and temperature and, as a result,are more efficient and less polluting. However, as will be discussed below, in India the process of modernization of UES is only at the initial stage.


High mortality in coal mining is another problem that became more acute in the second half of the 20th century. In total, 31 coal accidents have occurred in the history of independent India, killing 1,447 people. The largest accident occurred in 1975 at the Chasnala mine, located on the northern bank of the Damodar River*. The nationalization of the mining industry has significantly reduced the level of accidents at mining enterprises in India, but the risks for workers in this area are still very high.

Table 2

Specific greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation

Type of technology

g CO 2 eq. kW / h

Hydroelectric power station


Wind farms


Nuclear ones




Solar Thermal baths


Geothermal facilities


Photovoltaic systems


Natural gas




Compiled by: Moomaw W., Burgherrp, Heath G., Lenzen M., Nyboer J., Verbruggen A. Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Annex II: Methodology. IPCC. 2011.

Over the past decades, national production has been actively expanding, driven by demand, due to open-pit developments. While in 2001 Coal India received about 20% of its production from underground mines, 13 by 2015 this figure had fallen to 8%.14 The level of mine production has decreased even on an absolute scale. According to the representative of Coal India, the current market situation slows down mine production, where the cost of a ton produced, on average, is $14-16 higher than 15.

In 2007 Expert Committee of the Ministry of Coal Industry

* In 1979, the feature film "Black Stone" was created based on this accident. author's note).

page 49

India's industry committee proposed a reform map, which, among other things, recommended expanding the share of mine production to 25% by 2022.State-owned Coal India ignored this recommendation, focusing on cheap open-pit mining. As a result, the company is currently technologically lagging behind the world's best practices. Indian experts warn that Coal India risks facing a drop in production by the end of the decade if it does not immediately take measures to expand its mine production.16

On the other hand, it is thanks to the widespread use of open-pit mining that relative mortality and injuries in the Indian coal industry have significantly decreased. In 2010-2014. both indicators were twice as low as in 1995-1999. 17

Artisanal coal mining, which is very active in India, is a serious concern. Researchers note that the decline in the number of people employed in the formal mining sector associated with the mechanization of processes directly correlates with the growth of illegal mining in the world18.

Well-known Australian anthropologist K. Lahiri-Dutt notes that if you drive a few kilometers along the highway from Raniganj to the cities of Ranchi or Hazaribagh, you will certainly notice traces of artisanal coal mining. Along the way, you will definitely meet numerous columns of people pushing bicycles with bags of coal weighing sometimes more than 150 kg along the roadside. According to the information contained in the anthropologist's study, up to 70-80 million tons of coal are mined annually in an illegal and uncontrolled way19.

Artisanal mining is carried out both in the vicinity of open pits, and in abandoned or developed mines. Work is often carried out by whole families, using women's and child labor 20. Related accidents are widely reported in the media and become a serious problem for the government. In addition, during artisanal mining, coal-bearing formations often catch fire, and in the villages of illegal coal miners, soil slides occur and faults appear. Recently, the government has been trying to combat this by conducting satellite monitoring of artisanal mining 21.

Expansion of coal mining in India is difficult due to the high population density. With the dominance of open-pit mining, the development of new deposits makes it necessary to relocate sometimes entire villages. Shortly before the end of the previous government of M. Singh in 2013, amendments to the Land Acquisition Law were adopted - they prescribe obtaining consent for the purchase of land from most families of local residents, as well as setting the amount of compensation that is 2 to 4 times higher than the market value.

In December 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi issued a temporary decree to cancel these amendments, which require the consent of the majority of local residents, if the land is intended for projects of national importance, including the energy sector. The relevant law was passed by the lower house of Parliament, but the approval of the upper house of N. Modi has not yet been achieved. The Prime Minister is often criticized for pandering to the interests of big business, and there have been multimillion-dollar strikes in the country. However, the temporary decree was extended.


The Government of India is taking steps to address the above concerns. The reform efforts of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have directly and significantly affected the coal industry sector. The most important decision of the new government was the replacement of the Planning Commission by the NITI (National Institute for Transforming India) Aayog in January 2015. According to the Government decree, NITI Aayog will act as the successor to the Planning Commission, which will also "actively evaluate and monitor the implementation of programs and initiatives, including identifying the necessary resources to increase the likelihood of success".22

It is important to note that the Prime Minister himself is the chairman of the new organization. The three energy ministries (coal, electricity, and new and renewable energy) became accountable to one Minister. This measure is expected to strengthen the level of inter-ministerial interaction.

It is obvious that the Government of India is building a vertical planning system in the energy sector. This is certainly an important step, given the technological interconnections between the fuel and energy sectors. In addition, the planning vertical contributes to more effective implementation of long - term development directives-inherently non-market, but necessary from the point of view of their social and environmental significance.

It is also planned to encourage private capital access to the coal industry: by 2020, the level of participation of non-state actors in the coal industry will reach 33%23. Today, as a result of the nationalization of the 1970s, the state owns more than 90% of coal production. Coal India has almost a monopoly position, providing more than 80% of production. Private coal mining is represented only by companies that operate individual cement, steel and electric plants. 24 However, the situation is gradually changing.

page 50

In March 2015, the Government of India adopted special amendments to the Coal Mining Act. This document provides for the distribution of 204 blocks of production among private investors on the basis of an auction of 25. In 2015, 31 blocks were distributed among private companies during three rounds of bidding, and another 42 blocks were distributed between enterprises of the central government and state governments. According to the Ministry of Coal Industry, production has already started at 8 blocks. Another 15 blocks are expected to be mined by the end of March 2016.26

The process of privatizing the mining giant Coal India continues. In 2010, the company put 10% of its shares in circulation on the stock exchange. Strong demand saw the stock price soar 40% on the first day of trading on 27. In January 2015, another 10% stake in Coal India was sold on the stock exchange, and in November 2015, the government announced its intention to place another similar block28. These actions allow the government to attract additional funding to the coal industry, which is necessary, first of all, for updating the technical and technological base.


The Indian coal industry has significant opportunities to reduce its energy intensity and environmental impact , which are also supported by the country's leadership. As mentioned above, the vast majority of Indian wind farms operate on pre-critical principles. The installation of new or modernization of existing wind farms with the use of more advanced technologies can, if not reduce, then at least stabilize the level of greenhouse emissions, while maintaining a sufficient rate of absolute growth. Supercritical wind turbines emit 13% less CO2, while ultra-supercritical ones emit 19% less. Finally, fourth-generation UES (improved ultra-supercritical) emit 30% less greenhouse gases into the atmosphere compared to subcritical technology 29.

The 12th five-year plan (2012-2017) provides for the construction of two supercritical wind farms. Four such power plants with a capacity of 4 GW each are already operating in the country. Another 12 wind farms of this type are planned to be built in the states of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.30

The use of new technologies can make the coal industry more environmentally friendly, less traumatic, and also open up previously inaccessible resources for development. Technologies in the global coal industry have made a huge leap in recent decades, but their adoption in India is still at an early stage. As an example, we can cite coal gasification, which was actively used in the world throughout the XX century. The first Indian factory was opened by a private company in Orissa only in 201531

At the government level, the need for accelerated development of coal gasification is recognized. The synthesis gas obtained by this method will be used for the needs of the petrochemical industry. India currently imports many petrochemical products from China, where they are produced by coal gasification.32 This technology, however, is not a panacea, as greenhouse gas emissions from aboveground coal gasification exceed the levels of traditional wind farms.

The technology of underground coal gasification (CCGT) has much broader prospects. It assumes the absence of extractive operations (both open and mine) and full mechanization of processes, which ensures the safety of workers. Above-ground mining installations are quite compact and are dismantled after the field is developed, and the surface is again suitable for agricultural needs upon completion of work.

Underground gasification should complement classical production methods. It is aimed at coal deposits that cannot be extracted in the classical way-residual deposits and deposits at too great a depth.

The first large-scale tests of CCGT began in the USSR in the 1930s, but only now this technology is becoming commercially viable-first of all, with the development of horizontal drilling. The rapid growth of interest in CCGT was recorded in 2011-2014 against the background of soaring world prices for blue fuel. In the last 1.5 - 2 years, the dynamics of gas prices have been following oil, but it is difficult to predict how long the downward trend will be established. One thing is clear: the higher global energy prices, the greater the interest in progressive trends in production.

Carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technology can be effectively combined with underground gasification. Carbon dioxide produced during the operation of a thermal power plant is pumped deep into the developed coal seam. Thus, two goals are achieved at once: increasing production and theoretically eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation.

The use of CCS technologies can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from the operation of UES by 80-90%. Without this technology, the increasing use of coal poses an increasing threat to the environment.

Unfortunately, bright environmental prospects face a harsh economic reality: CCS technology is very energy-intensive (consumption reaches 25% of the power plant's capacity), and also requires large initial capital investments.

page 51

* * *

Coal remains a key source of energy in India to this day. Moreover, recent government initiatives indicate that the coal industry will continue to develop at an accelerated pace in the coming decades. In the medium term, the rate on coal is justified due to the fact that India has extensive reserves of this resource and its shallow depth. The combination of an open mining method and the speed of construction of the wind farm allows you to quickly increase the use of coal.

In the coming years, India's growing energy consumption will be driven primarily by coal. National production has prospects for expansion, but their effective implementation is largely due to the access of private, including foreign capital, as well as the speed of implementation of technological innovations. Political globalization, i.e. the country's involvement in international organizations, projects and groups, will help accelerate the spread of green technologies in India.

On the other hand, the recent relatively low prices on the global hydrocarbon market may temporarily reduce the motivation to use more expensive solutions. But do not forget that the use of advanced technologies in the energy sector is a necessary goal for the long term. So wouldn't it be better to use the time of favorable market conditions as an opportunity to invest the funds saved on imported gas and oil in technological progress?

1 ВР Statistical Review of World Energy. June 2015

2 Geological Survey of India, Government of India. 2013 -

3 India Energy Outlook. World Energy Outlook Special Report. International Energy Agency, Paris. 2015, p. 37 - 39 - 5.pdf

Deb M., Tiwari G., Lahiri-Dutt K. 4 Artisanal and small scale mining in India: selected studies and an overview of the issues // International Journal of Mining, Reclamation and Environment. 2008. Vol. 22, N 3, p. 194 - 209.

Heatly S.G. Tollemache. 5 Contributions towards a History of the development of the Mineral Resources of India // Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. 1842. Vol. 11, p. 2.

6 India. Mountain Encyclopedia -

7 Coal Mining in India. Ministry of Coal. Government of India -

Lahiri-Dutt K. 8 The coal nation: histories, ecologies and politics of coal in India. Surrey: Ashgate, 2014, p. 15 - 17, 105 - 129.

9 Coal India has planned output of 1 billion tonnes by 2020: Goyal // The Times of India, 04.12.2014 - -1-billion-tonnes-by-2020-Goyal/articleshow/45372394.cms

10 Understanding Energy Challenges in India: Policy, Players and Issues. International Energy Agency, Paris. 2012, p. 52.

Bhattacharya S., Singh A.K., Choudhury A. 11 Coal Resources, Production and Use in India // Chapter 8 in The Coal Handbook: Towards Cleaner Production. Volume 2: Coal Utilisation. Osborne, D. (ed), Woodhead Publishing Limited, Cambridge. 2013.

12 Coal In India. Office of the Chief Economist, Department of Industry and Science, Government of Australia. 2015 - ndia.pdf

13 Coal India Limited, Annual Report, 2000 - 01 -

14 Coal India Limited... 2014 - 15...

Das A.K. 15 Coal Prices not Viable for CIL's Ungerground Mines // Mining Weekly. 18.07.2013 - ning-operations-newprojects-2013 - 07 - 18

16 D.C.Panigarhi, Director, Indian School of Mines, quoted by Reuters, 21.10.2012 - - 10 - 21/features/sns-rt-us-india-coalbre89k0if-20121021_l_underground-mines-open-castpartha-b hattacharyya

17 Coal India Limited, Annual Report, 2014 - 15...

18 The Evolution of Employment, Working Time and the Mining Industry. Document TMMI/2002. ILO, Geneva. 2002.

Lahiri-Dutt K. 19 Op. cit, p. 40.

Angel L.Martinez Cantera. 20 The 100,000 Children Working in the Illegal Mines of India's Coal State // Vice News, 03.02.2015 - -state?preview&cb=vl422975406305

21 Government to Track Illegal Mining with Satellites // The Times of India. 21.12.2015.

22 For more information, see: Sadovnikova Ya. O. India: a new organization of strategic planning? // Asia and Africa Today, 2016, N 4 (Sadovnikova Ya. O. 2016. Indiya: novaya organizatsiya strategicheskogo planirovaniya? // Aziya i Afrika segodnya, N 4) (in Russian)

23 Coal in India. Office of the Chief Economist.., p. 60.

24 Coal India Limited: About Us -

25 Parliament Passes the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill. Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Coal, Government of India. 20.03.2015 -

26 Coal Ministry Focuses on Bringing Auctioned Mines to Production // The Economic Times. 28.02.2016.

27 Coal India Lights up Street with 40% Gains on Debut // The Economic Times. 05.11.2010.

28 Government to Raise Rs 21,000 crore at Current Price from Coal India Stake Sale // The Economic Times. 18.11.2015.

Barnes I. 29 Upgrading the Efficiency of the World's Coal Fleet to Reduce CO2 Emissions. IEA Clean Coal Center. July 2014, p. 14 -

Basu R. 30 An Issue of 'Ultra-Supercritical' Importance // The Hindu Business Line. 30.07.2015.

31 JSPL Plans More Angul-Like Coal Gasification Projects // The Economic Times. 13.02.2015.

32 Explore Coal Gasification as Feedstock for Petrochemicals, Says Official // The Economic Times. 07.07.2015.


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