India confronts mountain of coal problems: Coal industry supplies most of the country’s soaring energy needs, but disjointed governance undermines prospects.
BASUNDHARA, India — Across India, thermal power stations are running below capacity because they can’t get enough coal, and factories are running on expensive diesel generators because they can’t get enough power.
But here at one of India’s largest mines, millions of tons of coal are stockpiled because they can’t be transported quickly to the nearest rail yard. Plans to expand production further have been put on hold because a branch line to the mine, already three years behind schedule, is still less than half built. And the sorry state of India’s railway network is only part of the story.
At a time when the country’s energy needs are growing at a staggering pace, India depends heavily on coal, drawing on the fifth-largest reserves in the world. But mining has consistently fallen below target, imports are rising fast and the problems in the largely state-run industry may have even more far-reaching implications.
“It is essentially a combination of misgovernance, apathy and neglect of the entire sector,” Ashok Sreenivas of the Prayas Energy Group, a nonprofit think tank, said of the industry and its troubles. “It has been allowed to deteriorate out of the public eye.”
The problems at the Basundhara mine in eastern India offer an example of the difficulties that threaten to undermine the nation’s economic ambitions and its plans to create tens of millions of jobs for its fast-growing young workforce through rapid industrialization.
At the mine, 1,400 trucks a day choke the road that wends its way from the mine through forests and villages to the rail yard, belching diesel fumes and coating plants in black dust. But even that is not nearly enough.