‘It was a set-up, we were fooled’: the coal mine that ate an Indian village

By Ankur Paliwal

In a pristine forest in central India, the multibillion-dollar mining giant Adani has razed trees – and homes – to dig more coal. How does this kind of destruction get the go-ahead?

In a lined notebook, Bhole Nath Singh Armo, a lean 28-year-old man wearing a blue shirt and matching baseball cap, drew a map of his village. He pointed his pen at the middle to mark the temple where the village deity had lived. To the west, he noted a settlement of more than 200 houses where he, his father and his grandfather were born and raised. Then, to the north, another temple for a female deity. This was how his village, Kete, looked until nine years ago, when it was destroyed by a company controlled by a $260bn conglomerate. The conglomerate is named after its owner, Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani.

The village was located in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, on the edge of the dense Hasdeo Arand forest. One of India’s few pristine and contiguous tracts of forest, Hasdeo Arand sprawls across more than 1,500 sq km. The land is home to rare plants such as epiphytic orchids and smilax, endangered animals such as sloth bears and elephants, and sal trees so tall they seem to brush against the sky.

The forest also contains an estimated 5bn tonnes of coal. This coal is located close to the surface, which makes it easy to mine. The federal government has divided the region into 23 “coal blocks”, six of which it has approved for mining. The Adani Group has bagged the contracts to mine four of those six, including the one that encompasses Kete and adjoining villages. The construction of these mines will destroy at least 1,898 hectares of forest land. The specific coal block under Kete has about 450m tonnes of coal, worth about $5bn.

India is the world’s second-largest producer and consumer of coal (after China), and Kete’s story is just like others playing out all across the country. In 1998 it was calculated that more than 2.5 million Indians had been displaced by mining projects since 1950; many, many more will have been displaced in the years since. The coal sector generates about 70% of the country’s annual electricity and employs at least 2.9 million people. While India has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, it has no plans to phase out coal….


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