Tuesday 19 Oct 2021

Stop blame game, come clean on coal shortage

| OCTOBER 10, 2021, 11:51 PM IST

The country seems to be hurtling from one crisis to the next. As if the sky-high fuel and gas prices weren’t enough, large parts of the country especially northern states like Punjab, Rajasthan, Delhi, Bihar, Jharkhand, etc are staring at a power crisis caused by the shortage of coal. The shortage of coal, the government claims is responsible for the crisis while seemingly seeking to deflect the blame on to some unnamed, undefined forces that they say are responsible for the crisis.

The shortage of coal, the government claims is responsible for the crisis while seemingly seeking to deflect the blame on to some unnamed, undefined forces that they say are responsible for the crisis. This means that the country, which on one hand, claims it is competing with China, is being badly mismanaged that even a basic necessity like reliable power generation cannot be handled competently or that there is a deliberate power shortage.

Some theories have suggested that the power shortage is deliberate for either one of two reasons -- so that the states that are running short are forced to buy power from private produces thus filling the pockets of the private players who can now sell power at exorbitant rates owing to the shortage or that this coal shortage is a deliberate ploy to help the government to force through the upcoming amendments to the Coal Bearing Areas (Acquisition and Development) (CBA) Act, 1957. An amendment to the Act is in the pipeline that is set to make it much easier for the Union government to acquire and raze ancient protected forests, tribal lands and other lands and hand them over to private players for coal mining.

The fear expressed by a section of environmentalists is that the artificial shortage is being created to drum up public support by later claiming that the passage of the amendment is necessary to prevent a situation like the one we are currently facing. No matter what the real cause, whether genuine or deliberate -- the situation the country currently finds itself should have been avoided.

Instead, we are staring at a situation caused by failures at multiple levels in government with each level blaming the other for this situation reaching such a desperate state while simultaneously claiming that there is no real shortage of coal and all is well. It took the Delhi Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia to call out the government’s hollow claims saying that the Union government had similarly claimed that there was no oxygen shortage during the second wave earlier this year.

All this comes at a time when the government is promoting electricity as a clean alternative urging people to switch to electric vehicles, electric cooking, etc. All talk of switching over to cleaner forms of electricity generation also rings hollow especially given how more than 70% of the electricity generated in India continues to be from coal-fired plants.

It is high time the Union government gets its act together rather than attempt to deflect the blame despite being solely responsible for the procurement, transport of coal and the operation of coal-fired power plants. Anything short of it and we’ll be staring at a national crisis.


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