India Coal
Massive new Adani coal projects get government green light in India
Jul 19, 2023
Output of Adani coal-power plant to be doubled and new Adani coal mine approved in central India.

In a double whammy, the Indian government has approved a massive new Adani coal mine in central India and an expansion to a nearby coal-power plant. Trucking of coal along local roads has also been given the green light, despite the impacts of noise, fumes and coal dust on local people. The Dhirauli coal mine will provide 6.5 million tonnes of coal per annum to the Bandhaura power plant and other buyers. These coal projects are proceeding in the already seriously polluted Singrauli district of Madhya Pradesh.

Singrauli (India): The Indian government has provided an Adani company with environmental approval to extract 6.5 million tons per annum (MTPA) of coal from the Dhirauli block in central India and truck up to 90% of it to an Adani coal-power plant 30 km away.

Work is set to commence on Adani's huge Dhirauli coal mine in central India, despite impacts on climate, water resources, forests, villages and indigenous tribal people. Image Ayaskant Das

The Dhirauli mining lease area is spread over 2672 hectares of forests, fields and villages. The block has total geological reserves of 558 million tons of coal within it. The Adani Group has undertaken the mining project at a cost of Rs 2800 crore (US $340 million). The government has approved a mixed plan for the project in which 5 MTPA of coal will be excavated by the open-cast method with provisions for extracting another 1.5 MTPA through the underground mining method. The mine will destroy forests and farms, including the lands of indigenous tribal people.

The Hurdul Nalla, an important local stream to be diverted by concrete canal from the area to be destroyed by Adani's Dhirauli coal mine. Image Ayaskant Das

The government approved coal extraction from Dhirauli soon after also approving the expansion of electricity production at the nearby Bandhaura coal-power plant. The Dhirauli coal block, the largest in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is owned by Adani Group subsidiary Stratatech Mineral Resources Private Limited. The 1200 MW Bandhaura power project was acquired by the Adani Group from another business conglomerate (the Essar Group) in March 2022. The Adani Group has told the government that 90% of the coal extracted from the Dhirauli will feed the Bandhaura plant, which is now to be expanded by a staggering 1600 MW.

Adani's Bandhaura coal-power plant is set to be more than doubled in output, necessitating a huge new input of coal. Image Ayaskant Das

The go-ahead for transporting coal by road has been granted despite the serious health and environmental impacts that coal trucking is already causing in the Singrauli district of central India. The approval is for a period of 3.5 years, even though the area’s densely populated villages are already reeling under severe pollution caused by ceaseless movement of coal-laden trucks to Adani’s coal-power at the village of Bandhaura.

A local stall holder whose business has already been impacted by excessive movements of coal trucks on local roads in the vicinity of the Dhirauli coal project and Bandhaura coal-power plant. Image Ayaskant Das

‘The existing road infrastructure in Singrauli is not at all suited to this large-scale transport of coal using dumpers and trucks,’ said a local source, who wished to remain anonymous. ‘These roads have been constructed with public funds under government schemes for guaranteeing rural connectivity throughout the country. Which roads will we use if these ones are taken over by coal trucks?’

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Notably, environmental approval for the Dhirauli coal mine has been granted even as the Adani Group is awaiting permission to clear a huge swathe of forest in order to extract the coal. While seeking environmental approval, the Adani Group told the government that it was also seeking approval for clearing the forest. It submitted a report stating that ‘1,680,000 trees will be planted in 1400 ha of land area under compensatory afforestation (maintaining tree density of 1200 trees/ha).’ However, it is not known if the Adani Group has access to such a large area of non-forested land in the Singrauli district for this offset to occur.

A dwelling of tribal inhabitants of the forest is visible in an area threatened by Adani's Dhirauli coal project, Madhya Pradesh. Image Ayaskant Das

In February 2022, the forest department of Madhya Pradesh asked the Adani Group to provide an equivalent parcel of land for the purpose of compensatory (offset) afforestation in lieu of the 1436.19 ha of forests earmarked for felling to make way for the Dhirauli mine. This forest is located on the eastern boundary of the state.

The Adani Group sought this approval by identifying only 217.469 hectares of land for compensatory afforestation. Furthermore, this non-forest land was over 700 km away from the forest to be cleared, on the western periphery of Madhya Pradesh. A fresh proposal was submitted by the Adani Group to the forest department in the last week of June but its details have not been publicly released.

One of many water sources in an area potentially threatened by Adani's Dhirauli coal project in Madhya Pradesh. Image Ayaskant Das

At present, the Bandhaura plant is getting most of its coal via the road route from the Suliyari coal mine, which is being operated by the Adani Group on a contract basis for the public-sector enterprise Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Corporation (APMDC). During a field visit to the Singrauli coalfields in April, this correspondent witnessed first-hand the environmental pollution that is being caused by road transportation of coal from Suliyari to the Bandhaura power plant.

In seeking environmental approval for the Dhirauli coal project, the Adani Group promised the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC), a panel that reviews the environmental impacts of industrial projects on behalf of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (‘the ministry’), that it would build a piped conveyor belt from Dhiruali to Bandhaura over the next 3.5 years for the longer-term transportation of coal.

A local Singrauli road rendered squalid and polluted by coal trucks. Image Ayaskant Das

‘[The] Committee [EAC] noted that approx. 90% of the coal from Dhirauli Coal Mine will be utilised in the Thermal Power Plant of M/s Mahan Energen Ltd [the Bandhaura thermal power plant]. A five-kilometre pipe conveyor system has been planned for transportation of coal from Mine to Power Plant, which is likely to be implemented in 3.5 years, from the start date of planned coal production as per allocation order/ CBDPA [Coal Block Development and Production Agreement] with MOC [Ministry of Coal], Govt. of India. The remaining coal will be supplied through rail/road in the open market since it is a commercial coal mine. However, road transportation may be allowed for an initial 3.5 years of coal production for supply to thermal power plant. A commitment and undertaking in this regard has been enclosed,’ state the minutes of the EAC meeting held on 31 May 2023 (See sub-section (e) in Section (x) of Paragraph 45.1.3).

This leeway for road transport of coal has been granted despite the fact that similar commitments made more than four years ago for the Suliyari mining project have yet to be honoured.

In October 2019, when approvals were being sought for developing the Suliyari block, the Madhya Pradesh government directed that there should not be any transportation of coal from the project site using local roads. The Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board told the project proponent that coal evacuated from Suliyari should be transported only by rail (See Serial No. 5 in Paragraph 56.1.2).

Locality diagram for the Suliyari and Dhirauli coal blocks in Madhya Pradesh.

The proponent then pleaded with the ministry for permission to use the road for an initial period of five years, using ‘mechanised covered trucks’ to the nearest railway siding at Gajra-Bahra, 12 km from the project site. The project proponent made the undertaking that, after five years, the coal would then be transported to Gajra-Bahra via a new railway siding that it promised to construct in the mining-lease area. A five-year timeline for construction of a new railway siding was submitted to the ministry by the project proponent. But construction of the railway siding had not begun as of July 2023.

‘On a daily basis, 400-500 coal-laden dumpers and trucks are being dispatched from the Suliyari mines,’ my source in Singrauli said. ‘The movements of these vehicles are taking place on roads built solely out of public funds. The exercise has rendered the public roads unusable for members of the general public.’

The 2022-23 annual report of Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL), the flagship company of the Adani Group, said that coal production from the Suliyari mining project was 2.1 million tons, with 1.4 million tons of coal dispatched to various customers of APMDC (See Page 135 of Report).

An entrance to the Adani-operated Suliyari coal mine, Madhya Pradesh. Image Ayaskant Das

The brunt of environmental pollution caused by this large-scale trucking of coal from Suliyari to Bandhaura is borne by a densely populated marketplace called Garakhand Bazar. Heavy vehicles loaded to the brim with coal not only pollute the air in this market but also pose a threat to roadside hawkers that belonging to financially marginalised communities. Business has been hit in the marketplace due to the ceaseless movement of heavy vehicles along its main road while pollution control measures such as water sprinkling have not helped.

‘Did the government conduct a survey to find out if this road can bear any further load of vehicles before allowing the company to transport even more coal along this route?’ said Arvind, a cellphone repair store owner. ‘Our lives are already in total disarray because of these coal trucks. We cannot imagine the situation if even more coal trucks pass through this marketplace’.

A stallholder at Garakhand Bazaar laments the impact of ceaseless coal-truck movements on his business. Image Ayaskant Das

The government, far from conducting a survey, had not even informed local communities when Adani’s applications were being assessed that coal mined from the Dhirauli block will also be transported to Bandhaura by road. The environment impact assessment report of the Dhirauli mining project prepared by the Adani Group did not canvass transportation of coal using the roads. On the basis of this report, community consultations were carried out regarding the project, and a public hearing was held in May 2022.

When the ministry issued terms of reference for the Adani Group to carry out the environment impact assessment study for the Dhirauli project, the ministry had stipulated, from the outset, that there should be no road transportation of coal from Dhirauli mines.

‘In-pit conveyor belt with silo loading should be proposed and installed for transportation of coal till railway siding. No transportation of coal by trucks/dumpers shall be proposed in EIA [environment impact assessment] / EMP [environment management plan],’ stated the minutes of the EAC meeting held on 6 July 2021 (See Section (vi) of Paragraph 15.3.4).

The final environmental plan has therefore left the community feeling deceived. But this feeling is not limited to the Dhirauli project alone. When public consultations were carried out in January 2023 for the proposal to expand the capacity of the Bandhaura coal-power plant, local communities were similarly not told that coal would be transported to it using local roads.

The draft EIA report for expansion of the Bandhaura power plant stated that coal would be transported to the project entirely using mechanised systems.

‘MEL [Mahan Energen Limited] has signed commercial triparty agreement between Adani Group companies M/s. Mahan Fuel Management Limited and M/s. Stratatech Mineral Resources Private Limited [the Adani Group subsidiary that owns Dhirauli coal block] for the supply of Coal through Pipe Conveyor System from Dhirauli Coal Mine (Merchant) to Mahan Energen Limited. Coal from WCL (subsidiary of Coal India Limited) will be transported through rail up to Gajra-Bahra railway siding from Gajra-Bahra railway siding to Dhirauli CHP to plant premises through long belt conveyor (LBC)/ pipe conveyor system,’ stated the report (See third paragraph of Section 1.2).

However, when expansion of the project’s capacity was approved in a meeting on 12 May 2023, the EAC allowed the Adani Group three years of leeway during which it could transport the coal by road.

‘No coal shall be transported through the villages and no coal shall be transported through road beyond 2026 and no extension shall be granted in this regard,’ the EAC recommended (See Section (iv) of Paragraph 41.2.4).

‘Does this not amount to withholding of critical information during the public consultation process?’ the local source asked this correspondent, referring to the fact that the public consultations had occurred before this information was divulged.

It remains to be seen if the Adani Group adheres to the terms and conditions that the EAC has imposed upon it for transportation of coal by road. Amongst other conditions, the EAC has stipulated that ‘no village road shall be used for transportation of coal and no road transport route shall be adopted, which is passing through any sensitive location such as schools, hospitals etc.’ It also stipulated that the Adani Group shall ‘construct a pucca [sealed] road to maintain the safety of people residing nearby along the transportation route with plantation on either side of the road.’ (See subsections (xvi) and (x) of Paragraph 45.1.4).