[Solved] “In spite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development.” Discuss. ( UPSC GS-1 Mains 2017)

[Solved] “In spite of adverse environmental impact, coal mining is still inevitable for development.” Discuss. ( UPSC GS-1 Mains  2017)

There are numerous damaging environmental impacts of coal in the form of air and water pollution that occur through its mining, preparation, combustion, waste storage, and transport. Still, coal is inevitable for development because,

 • It is by far cheaper than nuclear, natural gas, oil. Hydro usually will be slightly cheaper. However, problems with hydro include: no new facilities because of public outcry when river valleys are dammed; and, peak demand time problems.

 • Coal also provides a stable source of energy (no Arab oil embargoes, no sudden scarcity like you experience with natural gas) and there is a very plentiful supply throughout the world.

 • Coal provides many jobs. Unlike other forms of energy (nuclear, natural gas, oil, hydroelectric), coal provides many jobs in removing coal from the earth, transporting it to the utility, burning it, and properly disposing of coal ash.

 • Even today the alternative source of energy such as solar, nuclear, hydro, etc. is not sufficient enough and cost effective so that they will replace coal as a source of energy.

 • Coal also often subsidizes the cost of other freight, making it possible for cargoes of other

commodities to get to market, which might not occur in the absence of a dynamic logistical railroad Thus, in the wake of ever growing population, increasing energy demand and lack of other alternative source of fuel coal seems to be the only source of fuel for the development of the world economy Importance of Coal industries in India

 Power generation

  • Coal mined from India is basically used for power generation through Thermal power plants. Thermal power plants contribute significantly towards electricity generation in India. Stopping of coal mining will hamper functioning of these plants and subsequently shortage of electricity for households and industries.

Iron and Steel industries

  • Developing economy like India needs large amount of Iron and steel for carrying out infrastructure. Coal is a major requirement for Iron smelting industry and cannot be replaced. So it becomes necessary to continue mining.

Employment

  • Coal mining is a major employment generator in backward regions of the country. Stopping the activity will create large scale distress in these regions leading to slowdown in economy.
  • Stopping coal mining altogether is impossible to achieve considering the importance involved, but care has to be taken to ensure that damages to environment is as low as possible.
  • Thus, policies have to be balanced between environmental protection and mining so that both the factors do not suffer adversely.

Further reading

 India has been practicing coal mining activities since 1774. And now India is one of the leading countries for coal mining operations. Coal fulfills about 67% of the total commercial energy consumed in India. The states of Jharkhand, Odisha, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh have a huge amount of coal reserves.

 Coal mining has a direct link with environmental destruction. It is yet not replaceable as it is a major contributor to industrialization and due to the unavailability of any substitute./environmental impact/

 Impacts:

  • It is responsible for the destruction of the rocks near the mining area and the wildlife habitats.
  • Deforestation is needed before starting the mining operation which results in the loosening of topsoil.
  • The process of coal mining may cause groundwater contamination. /environmental impact/
  • Mining wastes like mercury, sulfur dioxide causes acid rain, and the formation of particulate matter plays a significant role in air pollution.
  • Possibilities of methane (Greenhouse gas) leak out in the environment.
  • Underground coal burning due to mining causes decay of resources.
  • Why immediate cessation is not possible:
  • It is one of the largest sources of electricity in the world. Coal-based plants generate 72% of India’s electricity.
  • It is available in more than ten states in India.
  • It is cheaper in cost.
  • India’s coal reserves, fourth largest in the world, provide it with a cheap source of energy. However, the mining of coal causes severe damage to the environment: Pollution due to exposure of mining waste to air and water.
  • Coal mining results in methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas./environmental impact/
  • Fires from underground mines can burn for years, releasing smoke containing CO2, CO, NOx, SO2 etc.
  • Deforestation when trees are cut down or burned for clearing the way for a coal mine.
  • Despite the damage caused by coal mining, it is expected to contribute the dominant share to India’s electricity production for decades to come. Even with annual growth rates above 10%, the share of renewable sources in India is unlikely to reach even 10% of the energy mix before 2040. (Solar energy still provides only about 1 per cent of the electricity generated in the country).
  • India’s reliance on coal is expected to persist even in 2040s, with an envisaged share of 42%-50% in energy mix. A lower growth trajectory of renewable energy in view of the challenges and uncertainty of prices, storage costs, grid connectivity and parity make it over-ambitious to expect them to be central for India’s development.

Way  forward : It is impossible to tackle climate change without reducing the dependency on coal. BP Energy Outlook 2019 predicts the possibility of a decline in dependency over coal by 2014. Reducing the dependency on other fossil fuel and increasing renewable energy installation and its application would definitely work well to bypass environmental challenges. /environmental impact/

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