Coal India Indigenous People
3,700,000,000 tonnes of coal: setbacks in Chhattisgarh fail to curtail Adani’s appetite for new mines
Aug 29, 2023
Protesters at the edge of an Adani coal mine in India's Hasdeo forests.

The Adani Group is expanding its deadly coal agenda in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh despite several setbacks. In July 2023, a major coal block in the Hasdeo forests was withdrawn from auction after Adani and other companies had bid for it. The state has called on the Modi government not to auction new coal blocks in the Hasdeo forests (but faces an election later this year). Adani has suspended development of two other coal blocks due to delays in securing regulatory approvals. Nevertheless, the Adani Group is ploughing ahead with seven coal mines whose total reserves exceed a mind-boggling 3,700,000,000 tonnes of coal.

Despite facing the wrath of local communities in the Hasdeo forests, the sudden removal of a coveted coal block from auction, and two of its blocks being suspended owing to a delay in regulatory approvals, the Adani Group is clearly in no hurry to exit the coal industry in Chhattisgarh. Rather, the Adani Group is expanding its coal agenda there. (See the table at the end of this story for the full list of Adani coal-mining projects in Chhattisgarh)

Assembly elections in Chhattisgarh are scheduled for later this year. Conservationists and tribal communities fear that this might be a window for the business conglomerate to find respite from the political heat that it has been facing from the state’s Congress government. The opposition BJP has already announced its first list of candidates, containing 21 names.

Adani is ploughing ahead with at least seven coal mines in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The Tara coal block

A few weeks after three companies, including an Adani Group subsidiary, submitted bids for the Tara coal block in Chhattisgarh, the Modi government withdrew it from auction. Tara is amongst nine coal blocks in the Hasdeo forests which the Chhattisgarh state government wants removed from auction for the sake of preserving the rich biodiversity of the area.

A sacred mountain looms behind the biodiverse Hasdeo forest of Chhattisgarh. Image V. Ramamurthy

In a statement issued on 28 July 2023, Modi’s coal ministry announced the withdrawal of Tara in rather plain terms.

‘The Ministry of Coal had launched the 7th round and second attempt of the 6th round of Commercial Coal Mine Auction on March 29th, 2023. Tara Coal Mine was offered under seventh round of commercial coal mine auction. However, the competent authority has decided to withdraw the coal mine from the current auction process,’ stated the ministry’s notice.

No justification was given by the Modi government for removing Tara. Nor was there an attempt to justify retaining the eight other coal blocks under auction in the Hasdeo forests.

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On 23 June 2023, the Chhattisgarh government asked the Modi government to strike off nine coal blocks from the list of 23 put up for auction in the state. This was consistent with a resolution passed by the state’s assembly in July last year.

Villagers protect threatened trees with their bodies in an attempt to stop an Adani coal mine in the Hasdeo forests of central India.

‘On 26 July 2022, the Chhattisgarh assembly passed a resolution to cancel all coal block allocations in the Hasdeo area. Accordingly, the coal ministry was informed about the resolution on 19 September 2022. In the context of this resolution, I have been directed to inform the ministry that the forest-and-climate-change department of Chhattisgarh has recommended not to auction the nine coal blocks,’ said a letter by Chhattisgarh’s special mining secretary Jai Prakash Maurya, of which AdaniWatch has a copy.

The Modi government did not immediately withdraw Tara after receiving Chhattisgarh government’s letter.  Tara was withdrawn more than a month after the period for submitting bids had closed, on 27 June. It was amongst only seven blocks against for which the ministry had received multiple bids in the first round of auctions.

A reprieve has been granted for the forest that would be affected by exploitation of the Tara coal block in India's Hasdeo forests.

The Tara coal block covers 24.2 square km, out of which more than 80%, or 19.6 square km, is forest. A whopping 15.96 square km of the block are forested. (The Hasdeo forests comprise one of the longest contiguous forestlands of India, covering over 1500 square kilometers)

A portion (0.2 sq km) of the coal block’s surface overlaps the Lemru Elephant Reserve of Chhattisgarh for which the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had notified an area of 450 square km in September 2012.

Development of Adani's proposed coal mines in Chhattisgarh will worsen human-elephant conflicts - with deadly consequences.  Image Abir Dasgupta

Tara has estimated reserves of 337 million tonnes of coal. The eight other coal blocks in the Hasdeo forests which the Chhattisgarh government wants removed from the auction are Karkoma, Koilar, Tendumuri, Jilga Barpali, Barpali-Karmitikra, Batati Kolga North East, Batati Kolga East and Phatehpur South. A questionnaire was emailed to the coal ministry asking why Tara was dropped from the list while the remaining eight blocks have been retained. No response was received at the time of publication.

An Adani Group subsidiary company, Raigarh Natural Resources Private Limited, incorporated in August 2022, was amongst three bidders for the Tara block. The bids were submitted in response to an auction launched by the Modi government on 29 March 2023 to allot 101 blocks for commercial mining in which successful bidders will be allowed to sell the coal without any end-use restrictions.

Coal mining in the heavily exploited and badly polluted Raigarh region of Chhattisgarh. Image courtesy Makarand Purohit / India Water Portal / Flickr.

There were two other bidders for the Tara block. One was the public-sector Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation, owned by the government of the western Indian state of Gujarat. The other bid was made by the Jindal Steel and Power Limited company, an Indian firm belonging to a group of companies headed by billionaire businessman Naveen Jindal. Jindal is a senior Congress leader who is also a former member of the lower house of the Indian Parliament (the Lok Sabha).

These bids were made despite Tara’s rich biodiversity. An annexure attached to the letter of the Chhattisgarh government provided brief details of the ecological sensitivity of the areas under which all nine coal blocks are located. It stated the following about the Tara coal block:

‘The proposed auction of coal mines in the Hasdeo Arand area of Surguja district raises serious questions on issues of ecological conservation. The fact that Tara block is covered under 15.96 square kilometres of very dense forest is reason enough to prohibit any kind of proposed mining activities in the region.

India's Hasdeo forests - threatened by coal mining.

‘Further, it is not at all reasonable to carry out mining activities in ecologically sensitive areas at a time when sufficient number of alternate mines are available in the country … the very dense forests over Tara block contain a wide range of flora and fauna … Notably, the coal block summary uploaded by the Union steel ministry’s MSTC website clearly mentions that a portion of the boundary of the coal block overlaps the Lemru Elephant Reserve.’

Three infamous Adani coal projects in the Hasdeo forests

Chhattisgarh-based lawyer Sudiep Srivastava says the Adani Group had a particular interest in bidding for Tara. The coal block is contiguous with three other coal blocks of the Hasdeo coalfields of central India where Adani Group has been appointed as the Mine Developer and Operator (MDO). These three blocks have become infamous over the past decade.

Parsa, Parsa East & Kanta Basan (PEKB) and Kente Extension belong to a public-sector power-generation utility of the northwestern state of Rajasthan, which is also under Congress rule at present. Together, these three coal blocks account for nearly 1143 million tonnes of coal and cover about 58 square km. Extraction of coal from the PEKB mine has been underway for more than a decade.

The hotly-contested and destructive PEKB coal mine, operated by Adani in the Hasdeo forests and homelands of central India.

It was with the PEKB coal project that the Adani Group pioneered the concept of MDO in 2009, a model which has proven to be very successful commercially. Adani formed a joint venture, Parsa Kente Collieries Limited, holding 74% of the stake in PEKB, with the Rajasthan government owning the rest.

‘All infrastructure, including a railway corridor for transporting the coal, is already present in the region where Tara is located,’ said Srivastava. ‘The Adani Group was in a position to immediately begin mining operations at Tara.’

In the first phase of the PEKB project, extraction of coal commenced in March 2013 over an area of 762 hectares. In February 2022, the Modi government granted permission for mining of an additional area of 1136 hectares for the second phase. This was quickly followed by an approval in March 2022 from the Congress government of Chhattisgarh. The Modi government also granted permission in February 2022 for expanding the PEKB block from 15 to 18 million tonnes per annum (MTPA).

The PEKB coal mine in Chhattisgarh, dentral India, has destroyed ancestral lands of indigenous people as well as part of the biodiverse Hasdeo forests.

Local communities, many of them belonging to indigenous tribes of the region, have been in conflict with the government for several years over forceful takeover of land for these coal mines. In early 2022, senior Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, objected to the approval granted by Chhattisgarh government for the expansion of the PEKB project. Not long afterwards, the Chhattisgarh legislative assembly carried its unanimous resolution of July 2022 that urged the Modi government to cancel allocation of all coal blocks in the Hasdeo forests.

On 7 July 2023, a group of environmental campaigners and representatives of affected local communities sent a letter, of which AdaniWatch has a copy, to the Modi government reiterating the demand to cancel all coal-block allotments in the Hasdeo forests. They argued that Gram Sabhas (village-level councils of all adult members) of the affected areas will never give their consent for these mines to proceed.

In October 2021, thousands of villagers from the threatened Hasdeo forests defended their ancestral lands by marching 300 km to the state capital, Raipur.

All coal blocks in the Hasdeo Arand fall in an area listed under Schedule V of the Constitution of India owing to the preponderance of tribal population. The landmark Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996 – known popularly in India as the PESA Act – makes it mandatory to obtain consent of Gram Sabhas before undertaking any project in an area designated as Schedule V.

‘The state government should stand by its resolution not to allow mining in Hasdeo Arand,’ Chhattisgarh-based environmental activist, Alok Shukla, told this correspondent. ‘If these blocks are opened up, it will lead to the loss of livelihoods for millions of people in Chhattisgarh.

‘These blocks are located within the catchment areas of two important tributaries of the Mahanadi River, that is, Hasdeo and Mand. These tributaries are considered to be the lifelines of Chhattisgarh. The Hasdeo Bango dam on the Hasdeo River irrigates roughly 450,000 hectares of agricultural lands in the three districts of Janjgir-Champa, Korba and Bilaspur.

The Hasdeo forests are a critical water catchment for a large part of central India. If coal mines proliferate, there the livelihoods of millions of people will be adversely affected. Image Abir Dasgupta

‘The proposed coal mines in these catchments will affect farming and cause ecological disasters as well as floods and droughts. They will also result in terrible human-elephant conflicts because of the region’s proximity to the Lemru Elephant Reserve.’

Sudiep Srivastava accused the central government of pandering to the greed of corporates by auctioning coal blocks in the Hasdeo forests at a time when the Adani Group itself has suspended development of two blocks in Chhattisgarh.

Part of the Jhigador coal block, where Adani has suspended development.

Green light given for coal mines in ‘no go’ zones

The UPA national government, in December 2011, classified various coal blocks in nine coalfields, including Hasdeo, as ‘no go’ or ‘go’ as part of a process of transparently deciding which forestlands should be allocated to mining. Unfragmented forest landscapes with a gross forest cover of more than 30% and weighted forest cover of more than 10% were categorised as ‘no go’ areas. Subsequently, the Modi government claimed that both Tara and PEKB fall on the ‘outer fringes’ of the ‘no go’ areas.

The concept of ‘no-go’ and ‘go’ notwithstanding, the Adani Group has claimed in its annual report that it has already achieved ‘100 million tons of cumulative run-of-mine coal production from Parsa East & Kanta Basan coal block in 10 years’ (See Page 88).

In the financial year 2022-23, coal production from the PEKB block was 11.8 million tonnes. The peak-rated capacity of this coal mining project is 18 MTPA. Work for extracting coal from the two other contiguous blocks – Parsa and Kente Extension – is in progress. Once fully operational, these two blocks will each yield 5 MTPA of coal at their peak-rated capacity.

The Modi government has claimed that the Tara block was identified for auction following consultations with the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’). A press release was issued by the ministry on 24 July 2023:

‘Tara block has been considered for auction based on recommendations in Bio-Diversity study in Hasdeo-Arand Coalfield, carried out by Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), Dehradun.’

This study was commissioned by the Chhattisgarh government to research the potential impacts of coal mining in the biodiversity rich forests of Hasdeo Arand. It was conducted by ICFRE in association with the Wildlife Institute of India, which are both autonomous bodies under the ministry. ICFRE had recommended that the four coal blocks – Tara, Parsa, PEKB and Kente Extension – which are contiguous with each other, could be opened up for mining. However, the Wildlife Institute of India had recommended no further opening up of coal blocks, concluding that mining be allowed only in the already operational area of the PEKB block.

‘As certain portions of the PEKB coal block has (sic) already been opened for mining, the mining operation may only be permitted in the already operational mine of the block,’ stated the Wildlife Institute of India in the report (See Question number 7 in Paragraph ES 16 on Page (xliii)).

The Modi government has never explained why it ignored the concerns of the Wildlife Institute of India while allowing the Tara block to be auctioned.

Long-running dispute over allocation of Tara coal block

The Tara block has been under controversy for more than a decade. The block earlier belonged to a public-sector enterprise, the Chhattisgarh Mineral Development Corporation Limited (CMDCL). The public company had secured government approval for a mining plan in April 2010 for the extraction of 6 MTPA of coal from Tara. The first stage of forest clearance for the project was provided in July 2011. The crucial environmental approval for the project was provided by the UPA government in May 2012. Chhattisgarh had already acquired 379.86 hectares of land for the project at that point of time.

However, in September 2014, the Supreme Court of India quashed the allotment of 204 coal blocks, including that of Tara, deeming those allocations as ‘illegal’ and ‘arbitrary’. The de-allocations came into effect soon after the UPA government was displaced by the BJP-led NDA government of Narendra Modi in 2014.

The Tara block was put up for auction afresh by the Modi government in March 2015. Naveen Jindal’s company, Jindal Steel & Power Limited, successfully bid for three of the coal blocks auctioned, including Tara. However, a few days after the bidding closed, the Modi government rejected bids received for four blocks over speculation of ‘cartelisation’ by corporate entities in the coal sector. The government justified itself by saying that the bids were very low compared with bids for other blocks in the tranche of mines listed for auction. Three of the rejected bids had been filed by the Jindal company, which included a bid for Tara. These coal blocks were handed over to the public-sector coal major Coal India Limited.

Experts in the industry criticised the government for its claim of ‘price discrepancies’ in the allotment of the blocks. It was alleged that reassessment of the auctions after posting of highest bids sent a wrong signal to the market.

‘Unfair to even suggest that the bids were low, in fact the bids were substantially above the base prices set by the government,’ Jindal Group Chairman Naveen Jindal tweeted on 21 March 2015.

Soon after, the Jindal Group filed a petition in the Delhi High Court against the decision of the central government to cancel the coal blocks. The company alleged that the government might be planning to allocate the blocks to ‘someone else’ as ‘it was moving very fast’.

On 23 March 2015, the high court ordered a stay upon the central government from going ahead with the auction of the coal blocks, including Tara. In a subsequent hearing, the high court observed that rejecting the bids submitted by the Jindal Group was ‘prima facie’ wrong as the central government was making a mistake in comparing the bids with quotes received for different blocks.

However, two years later, the high court upheld the Modi government’s decision to cancel the bids of Jindal Group for the three coal blocks, including Tara. The court said that it did not find any fault with the decision to cancel allocation of coal blocks to JSPL and that it cannot interfere in executive decisions of the central government of India. The court order, however, also stated that the decision to make Coal India Limited the custodian of the blocks was ‘bad in law’ and should be revisited. It asked the government to quickly decide on the future prospects of the coal blocks.

Other Chhattisgarh coal blocks allocated to Adani

In December 2022, the Adani Group was selected by the central government-owned South Eastern Coalfields Limited (SECL) to operate the Pelma coal mine in Chhattisgarh on an MDO basis. A formal agreement between Adani and SECL was subsequently signed in August 2023. The Pelma block, located in the Mand Raigarh coalfields, covers 15.59 square km in the Mand Raigarh coalfield and has a whopping reserve of 1096.7 million tonnes of coal. The Modi government has promised to invest more than USD $555 million in the Pelma open-cast mining project.

In its annual report for the financial year 2022-23, the Adani Group has disclosed that it also acquired the Purunga block in the Mand Raigarh coalfields of Chhattisgarh in March 2023. Purunga, covering 8.7 square km with 260 million tons of reserves in the state’s Raigarh district, is sensitive from the point of view of hydrology and ecology of the south Chhattisgarh region.

Purunga lies south of an important stream, the Kopar Nala, which is a tributary of the Mand River. The Kopar Nala is fed by the springs of the adjoining Kamthi Hill range while the Mand River joins the east flowing Mahanadi River. The block is near important habitats for sloth bears and elephants. It is roughly 12 km from the proposed boundary of the Lemru Elephant Reserve. At least four villages – Purunga, Kokdar, Taraf Manjali, Samarsingha – will be affected by the project.

The acquisition of Purunga was questioned. The Adani Group won four coal blocks in March 2023, but, reportedly, there was only one other company that had simultaneously placed bids for three of these blocks, including Purunga. A privately owned firm, PowerMech Projects Limited, headquartered in Hyderabad, the capital of the South Indian city of Andhra Pradesh, was the only other bidder other than Chhattisgarh Natural Resources for the Purunga block. PowerMech Projects has close business ties with the Adani Group. In August 2022, it received orders worth over Rs 6100 crore (US $736 million) from the Adani Group to install devices for controlling emissions of toxic gases at the latter’s various thermal power plants.

Table on Adani’s coal mining projects in Chhattisgarh:

Serial No.

Coal block

Coalfield

Allottee

Peak rated capacity (MMTPA)

Total Reserves (MMT)

Allotment date

Status of project

Coal mining as MDO

 

1

Parsa East Kente Basen

Hasdeo

Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam

 

18

508.95

June 2007

Operational

2

Gare Pelma III

Mand Raigarh

Chhattisgarh State Power Generation Company

 

5

210.20

Sept 2015

Operational

3

Parsa

Commercial coal mining

Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam

 

5

256

March 2015

Under Development

4

Kente Extension

Hasdeo

Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam

 

5

377.90

March 2015

Under Development

5

Gare Pelma II

Mand Raigarh

Maharashtra State Mining Corporation

 

23.6

1059

March 2015

Under Development

6

Pelma

Mand Raigarh

South Eastern Coalfields Limited

 

15

1096.7

N.A.

Agreement signed August 2023

Coal mining as mine owner ('commercial mining')

 

1

Jhigador

Bisrampur

CG Natural Resources Private Limited (Adani Group)

 

To be decided

250

August 2021

Under Development

2

Khargaon

Bisrampur

CG Natural Resources Private Limited (Adani Group)

 

To be decided

250

August 2021

Under Development

3

Purunga

Mand Raigarh

CG Natural Resources Private Limited

 

To be decided

260

March 2023

Under Development